New medical school for Eastern Cape

With just three doctors to every 100 000 people in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, the province desperately needs qualified medical practitioners.

Vice-Chancellor Prof Derrick Swartz is very impressed by the widespread support for the medical facility. (Image: NMMU)

Melissa Jane Cook
With just three doctors to every 100 000 people in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, the province desperately needs qualified medical practitioners.To address the problem, the local Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) medical school is introducing a number of undergraduate healthcare qualifications. The move comes ahead of the government’s National Health Insurance initiative being implemented.

The university has already revamped its Faculty of Health Sciences into four new schools, and introduced a new BSc Dietetics degree and a pharmacy assistant’s qualification. It is working closely with the Ministry of Health; the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA); the Council for Higher Education (CHE); provincial government; and Walter Sisulu University; to ensure that an undergraduate degree for medical doctors is in place by 2018.

A welcome addition to healthcare needs

Vice-chancellor Prof Derrick Swartz says on the NMMU website that “There is widespread support from healthcare professionals in the city and region for the creation of a medical school at NMMU, in addition to the expansion of healthcare training programmes, to address urgent needs to support the nation’s healthcare demands.”

Prof Vic Exner, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, believes the medical facility will develop a new type of health professional. (Image: NMMU)

He adds; “PE (Port Elizabeth) and the region already have a large number of public and private hospitals and clinics, which could benefit from, and contribute significantly to, a new medical school.

“NMMU is located, principally, in a major city with all its locational advantages – a strong administrative base, and a rapidly growing Faculty of Health Sciences – on the basis of which a future medical school would be a natural evolutionary step. Naturally, we will have to consult widely, including with other universities, as well as also the Ministries of Health and Higher Education”.

In the interim, the university’s academic governing body has approved a three-year clinical associate degree programme – B(CMP) – to start in 2015. The Senate has also approved the course, which awaits final approval by the CHE, HPCSA and the Minister of Health. Clinical associates are qualified to assess patients, make diagnoses, prescribe treatment and do minor surgery under a doctor’s supervision.

Other long-term plans include introducing a new four-year degree for emergency medical care practitioners – B(EMC) – for 2014; and new four-year degrees in Radiography (BHS (Radio)); Medical Laboratory Sciences (BHS (Med Lab Sc));and Nursing (BNursing Sc) for 2014.

Environmental Health (BHS (EH)) and Biokinetics (BHSc (Biokinetics) degrees are planned for 2015 with new postgraduate degrees including a master’s degree in Dietetics for 2014 and a master’s degree for specialist pharmacists for 2015.

The university will take a more trans-disciplinary approach to its training by introducing modules common to all health disciplines. The curriculum will address real workplace needs and that the country needs a new type of doctor, especially when it comes to primary health care.

A new type of health professional

Nursing, radiography, emergency medical care and clinical associates, for example, will share at least 11 modules. Such an approach will allow for training across a broad community-based platform and provide greater access for accomplished applicants whose schooling may not have been ideal.

“It will allow us to develop a new type of health professional and eventually a doctor who chooses to work in the communities most in need,” says Faculty of Health Sciences Dean Prof Vic Exner.

NMMU also plans to offer a range of paramedical and healthcare programmes, such as emergency medical care, pharmacy technicians and mid-level healthcare professionals. (Image: NMMU)

“Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University is excited about the prospect of a medical school – and so it seems is the larger community, as we have already received had many inquiries about the way forward and the new programmes on offer. A team of experts is meeting on 23 October to work on a blueprint for the medical school. From here on, it’s going to be exciting times ahead,” said NMMU senior manager of communications, Debbie Derry.

The university aims to have a fully fledged medical school by 2020.

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) opened on 1 January 2005, after PE Technikon, the University of Port Elizabeth and the Port Elizabeth campus of Vista University (Vista PE) merged. The university has some 27 000 students and 2 500 staff members, and is based on six campuses in the Nelson Mandela Bay metropolis, and in George, 300 km south of Port Elizabeth.

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