After several setbacks the Swartland Hospital in Malmesbury finally boasts a learning centre for undergraduate as well as postgraduate students.
And not a moment too soon.
Due to the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, more medical students from Stellenbosch University (SU) are currently doing their clinical rotation at this district hospital than would previously have been the case.
Under normal circumstances a maximum of three or four medical students would be placed at Swartland Hospital in the middle or late phase of their clinical rotations, says Dr Gavin Hendricks, training coordinator and family physician at the hospital. However, due to Covid-19 this was no longer viable and the new IDEAL rotation was provisionally implemented.
IDEAL – or Integrated Distributed Engagement to Advanced Learning – entails the placement of fifth-year medical students at hospitals in the Western and Northern Cape that have not previously been used for clinical rotations. Instead of clinical training at Tygerberg Hospital, ten fifth-year students are now engaged in clinical training at Swartland Hospital.
The learning centre opened in August this year, coincidentally also the month in which their current six-week rotation commenced. SUNLOC was instrumental in the final planning and equipping.
According to Hendricks the compact learning centre is equipped with the necessary technology such as WiFi, a printer, two computers and a flat screen for self-study, web-based teaching and virtual classes and meetings. In addition there is a small conference area equipped with a sofa, table and chairs as well as a kitchen area and toilet.
Due to limited clinical places, the fifth-year IDEAL students find themselves one day on site in the clinical environment and the next day off site. The five off-site students can focus on online learning regarding a specific treatment or other medical issues, and can be accommodated at the centre, says Hendricks.
The three registrars who currently specialise in family medicine at Swartland Hospital, also have access to the learning centre.
“In terms of space for academic teaching, student assessment and a place where students could meet, there definitely was a void at the hospital," adds Hendricks.
Space is critical at all small district hospitals, says Prof Bob Mash, executive head of the Department of Family and Emergency Medicine as well as head of the Division of Family Medicine and Primary Care at SU's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.
Over the years several learning centres have been set up at rural hospitals, but with the Swartland Hospital it was a case of third time lucky.
“We have been planning a learning centre since about 2012 with money that was originally donated by the Discovery Foundation," says Mash. However, by the time approval for the planned building was obtained from various role-players after a lengthy bureaucratic process, it was no longer financially viable.
“The hospital then identified a place that could be internally converted to a learning centre. But as we planned the conversion, a fire broke out in the hospital in 2017," Mash says. The process once again ground to a halt as the remaining parts of the hospital had to be repurposed for clinical service delivery.
The following year it was negotiated that as part of the restoration of the hospital, space would be allocated for a learning centre. Although Covid-19 delayed the conversion again, the idea could finally be realised in 2020, says a grateful Mash.