Stellenbosch University
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FMHS expands training to Northern Cape
Author: Carine Visagie
Published: 26/02/2019

​​​​In an exciting step, Stellenbosch University's (SU) Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) has expanded its footprint in the Northern Cape. This year, a small group of medical students will be completing their final year in Upington, contributing to much-needed medical services in the area.

SU's Ukwanda Centre for Rural Health is a pioneering initiative of the FMHS and was established in 2001. In keeping with its name (Xhosa for “grow" or “develop"), the Ukwanda Centre for Rural Health coordinates and supports training and research initiatives in rural communities. The aim is also to equip healthcare professionals with skills and hands-on experience to help address the challenges faced by rural and underserved communities in South Africa.

“Rural communities, which make up 35% of South Africa's population, are generally underserved," explains Prof Ian Couper, Director of the Ukwanda Centre for Rural Health. “The Centre is a means by which the FMHS demonstrates and drives its commitment to addressing the rural healthcare needs of South Africa."

For several years now, SU medical and other health science students have been doing short rotations at rural healthcare facilities in the Western, Northern and Eastern Cape, while a selection of students have undertaken their final year at the Rural Clinical School, based in the Cape Winelands and Overberg districts of the Western Cape. Now, a similar approach will be followed in Upington in the Northern Cape.

High-level negotiations between SU and the Northern Cape provincial government moved forward in 2017. Subsequently, in early 2018, Dr Therese Fish (Vice Dean: Social Impact and Clinical Services), Prof Julia Blitz (Vice Dean: Learning and Teaching) and Prof Couper visited Dr Harry Surtie Hospital in Upington on behalf of the FMHS. More visits followed, resulting in plans for training in a number of healthcare programmes.

“The aim was to work towards longitudinal student exposure based on collaborative practice," Couper says. “The SCALE-Up model – Stellenbosch Collaborative and Longitudinal Exposure in Upington – was proposed." The Ukwanda Centre will lead this collaboration on behalf of the FMHS.

In September last year, the Northern Cape programme kicked into gear when final-year medical students undertaking the five-week primary health care rotation started training at the Upington hospital.

From this year onwards, four final-year medical students will be completing a modified longitudinal integrated model (LIM) programme at Dr Harry Surtie Hospital. “These students will be trained by local healthcare staff and supported by consultants from Tygerberg Campus as well as the Ukwanda Centre for Rural Health team," Couper says.

In February, the Division of Occupational Therapy started sending final-year students for four rotations and, in April, the Division of Physiotherapy will follow suit by sending students for two rotations. “The plan is to move towards longer longitudinal programmes in 2020, with Speech-Language and Hearing Therapy possibly also joining the programme," Couper continues.

More plans for future expansion by the FMHS include the possibility of developing post-graduate training at Dr Harry Surtie Hospital, including possible registrar rotations in general medical specialities.

With this service, the Northern Cape – a province that doesn't have a medical school and that struggles to attract health professionals to its widely spread communities – will hopefully gain valuable skills and expertise.

The Ukwanda Centre values the very positive response from the Northern Cape – especially the management and staff of Dr Harry Surtie Hospital, who are excited about the vision to expand training in the province. This will ultimately lead to more members of the community being able to access services, says Couper.

For more information, contact Lindsay-Michelle Meyer at More information is available on the Ukwanda Centre for Rural Health's website.



Banner photo: FMHS representatives visit Upington. Front row from right to left: Ms Amanda Msindwana (Speech-Language and Hearing Therapy); Dr Inge Smit (Psychiatry); Ms Mia Duvenage (Occupational Therapy); Prof Elmin Steyn (Surgery); Prof Rafique Moosa (Internal Medicine); Prof Susan Hanekom (Physiotherapy); Dr Liezl Smit (Paediatrics); Dr Michael Pather (Family Medicine); Ms Lindsay-Michelle Meyer (Ukwanda Project Manager; visit coordinator). Back row from right to left: Ms Jana Muller (Ukwanda Collaborative Care; interim project coordinator); Dr Francois Coetzee (Ukwanda MB,ChB programme); Prof Ian Couper (Director, Ukwanda Centre for Rural Health; team leader); Prof Ben van Heerden (Director, MB,ChB Unit); Dr Esté Swart (Obstetrics and Gynaecology) 

Insert: The four medical students who will be completing their final year at Dr Harry Surtie Hospital. From left to rightFelrie Oettle, Elmaur Human, Anja Langenhoven and Ntshembo Nkuna.