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Exploring the development and application of a responsive curriculum framework for healthcare professionals in South Africa


An imperative for exploring a more responsive curriculum framework for healthcare professionals has been established in the field of Health Professions Education (HPE). This study responds to these imperatives and calls for HPE curricula to be more responsive and relevant to the social contexts in which they are located. This study is framed by Global Health Equity concerns and locates itself in the context of South Africa which requires healthcare curricula which are responsive to health inequity and environments which are crippled by the burden of disease and resource-constrained services. Such curricula need to deliver healthcare professionals who are clinically competent and critically conscious of the contexts in which they serve and health care systems within which they practice. The study hopes to respond to these imperatives by exploring the development and application of responsive curricula for healthcare professionals in South Africa. The rationale for the study is to create a platform for research in South Africa, where the overwhelming burden of disease and health inequity demand responsive healthcare curricula. Educating future healthcare professionals should necessarily involve developing a critical consciousness of global health inequality. This is a social justice imperative, as disease is managed in the context of a healthcare system and addressing the issues of equity and social justice within local healthcare systems needs to become part of how future healthcare professionals are educated. It is in this area that the study hopes to make a contribution.

Objectives of the study 

This study aims to contribute towards a scholarly approach in the field of HPE and produce a body of knowledge for HPE in the South African context that speaks to issues of health equity and social justice. The objectives of the study are to:

  • Effect change in health systems through a national educational initiative
  • Promote multi-site, collaborative research platforms across the higher education sector
  • Link research to the realities and challenges of healthcare in South Africa
  • Strengthen capacity in HPE research in South Africa, especially for young and emerging researchers
  • Build theory and shape policy around developing relevant and responsive HPE curricula in the South African context
  • Explore contextually responsive models of HPE that take future healthcare professionals and HPE teachers beyond biomedical models
  • Re-envision the role of HPE centres and the Faculty Development initiatives offered
  • Produce a set of guidelines to inform teaching practices towards contextually-responsive models of HPE

Potential impact 

As the study has representation from different HE institutions in South Africa, it has the potential to impact nationally. This work will specifically seek to strengthen Human Capacity Development in health professions education research in South Africa. This is a field of study that is still in a relatively early phase of development in South Africa, but one that is on a significant upward trajectory with researchers from South Africa increasingly participating on the sub-Saharan African, and indeed international, stage. For this reason, the project will consciously include emerging researchers in its work. Another potential impact of this work will be in the form of knowledge production. The project will produce a minimum of six publications throughout the duration of the project. The first scholarly output, a journal article, was published in 2020.

Project timeline 

This is a four-year longitudinal study, which commenced in January 2019 and will continue till December 2022, comprising three phases:


Phase 1 (January 2019 to June 2020) explored how HPE teachers understood the principles underpinning their HPE curricula and how their understandings were then translated into innovative teaching practices. The research site for this phase was Stellenbosch University. To date all data have been gathered and analysed. Dissemination has taken the form of conference presentations and journal articles. ​​

Phase 2 (July 2020 to December 2021) adopted a multi-site collaborative approach, in which five purposively selected universities in South Africa (UWC, CPUT, SMU, WITS and UCT) are involved. They are replicating the first phase, across these five sites. These universities have been selected on the basis that they all offer health sciences programmes; they are situated in different regions; they represent a mix of both urban and rural campuses; and they represent a mix of both historically 'black' and 'white' institutions. For this phase of the study, each institution was able to coordinate their research team and a minimum of two members of staff at each site have agreed to participate as collaborators. 

Phase 3 (2022) will draw the findings from phases 1 and 2 together into a theoretical model for the implementation of HPE curricula designed to deliver future healthcare professionals who are both clinically competent and critically conscious, and report on the implications for Faculty Development and the role of HPE centres. The study hopes to address the dearth of rigorous studies in this area of HPE, which take a view from within SA for SA. ​

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