In response to this staffing crisis SU established Ukwanda Centre for Rural Health in 2001 to train health care professionals with applicable knowledge and hands-on experience of the health issues facing rural and underserved communities.
Stellenbosch was one of the first universities in South Africa to implement a rural training platform for its students.
The Centre has been active in the Overberg and Cape Winelands districts of the Western Cape Province and in the Eastern Cape for a decade, facilitating undergraduate education in these regions and taking on many small-scale community interaction and research projects. As part of the Centre, undergraduate health students also receive training at a number of rural regional hospitals, smaller district hospitals and clinics – including Malmesbury, Paarl, Citrusdal, Stellenbosch, Madwaleni and Zithulele.
Good rural training and learning opportunities alone are not sufficient. Students' emotional attachment to rural living comes from experience during time spent in the community and connections formed with local people. Short rotations are inadequate to forge lasting connections.
In an engagement model however, students are exposed to the realities of working in a resource-limited environment within the existing health care system and not alongside it. They provide assistance and support to health care personnel while simultaneously gaining valuable "real life" experience.
Taking rural health care training a step further
To further immerse students into the role of rural health care professionals, the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences established the Ukwanda Rural Clinical School (RCS) in 2011.
It is an offshoot of the Ukwanda Centre of Rural Health and makes it possible for medical students to complete their final year while based in a rural community. This is aimed at acculturating undergraduate medical students into the rural lifestyle, thereby increasing the number of graduates who choose to return to work in rural communities after graduation.
The School also supports and trains other health professionals and health care workers in a rural setting, and provides a platform for research in topics related to rural health and health science.
How Ukwanda makes a difference
The aim of the RCS is to produce more health care professionals and to increase the number of graduates choosing to follow their careers in rural settings. International experience indicates that recruitment and retention rates are higher if you immerse students in rural life during training.
As part of the project, there is a strategic focus on recruiting students from rural areas and engaging any barriers to include academic subjects that will strengthen the chances of rural students to enter medical and allied health professions.
A successful model of a rural campus that effectively improves the lives of rural communities could serve as an archetype for other rural areas in South Africa, and elsewhere on the continent.
The Ukwanda Rural Clinical School is the first initiative of its kind in South Africa. In 2011 eight final year medical students were placed in two rural areas for the entire academic year.
The second group comprising 22 students accepted placement at the RCS in 2012 – 18 of them at Worcester, two at Robertson, and two at Swellendam.
The FMHS hopes to eventually provide continuous, year-long rural training to at least 30 student interns, as well as students from the allied health professions, and thus support health service delivery and greater access to quality care for the people in the communities of Worcester, Ceres, Roberson, Caledon, Hermanus and Swellendam.
In addition, medical students and students from the allied Health Professions continue to spend clinical training time on the rural platform and discussions on new innovative educational and training models continues.
Worcester Campus (Linked to the Ukwanda RCS)
The establishment of a Rural Clinical School in the Winelands/Overberg region with a campus in Worcester is the first step towards the creation of a SU satellite campus with the participation of several faculties and with a focus on sustainable rural development.
The R65 million state of the art facility at the Worcester campus was officially opened in October 2012.
The Worcester campus now also accommodates SU's SciMathUS bridging programme which offers educationally disadvantaged learners a second chance to qualify for admission into higher education. Other faculties and University entities will be encouraged to consider innovative educational models to further interdisciplinary involvement via the Worcester campus and spokes. Due to its state-of-the-art technology SU has the ability to facilitate off-site learning which in turn reduces traveling and accommodation costs.