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Two FMHS professors land prestigious Fulbright Scholarships
Author: FMHS Marketing & Communications – Sue Segar
Published: 14/05/2024

Stellenbosch University's (SU) Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) celebrates two faculty members awarded prestigious Fulbright Scholarships.

Professors Eileen Africa and Conran Joseph will use this opportunity to enhance their expertise in the US and contribute their learnings to South Africa's healthcare landscape. The Fulbright program allows South African university faculty to conduct research in their field for 3-9 months at a US institution.

From local kinderkinetics initiative to US Play Strong programme

Africa, who heads up the Kinderkinetics honours programme within the Division of Movement Science and Exercise Therapy, travels to Ohio State University's College of Medicine in November to work with Prof James MacDonald, a paediatrician familiar with her Kinderkinetics work.

MacDonald is involved with a medically supervised wellness programme, called “Play Strong", which uses play to demonstrate the benefits of activity and encourages healthy fitness habits at home.

“Play Strong aligns closely with our Kinderkinetics programme at SU," says Africa. “Their programme is a part of the Nationwide Children's Hospital's offering, while ours is an external service. I believe I can learn a great deal from this programme and its application.

“I am interested in learning how they manage this programme in the hospital setting. We can certainly benefit from this," she said.

Whilst her main goal is to learn what she can at the hospital, Africa said she will explore the possibility of co-authoring an article with MacDonald or initiate a collaborative research project.

Africa, who has worked in SU's Department of Exercise, Sport and Lifestyle Medicine for 18 years, says the Fulbright Scholarship marks a significant moment in her career. “I took a leap of faith in applying, but I didn't want to get my hopes up. It's an incredible opportunity for my academic career. It opens doors to resources and expertise that I wouldn't have access to otherwise, setting a strong foundation for what I hope will be a fulfilling and impactful career in academia."

In terms of future plans, Africa says she aims to enhance the effectiveness of her programme, continue to have a positive impact on children in the community, conduct advanced research in paediatric movement science, and publish impactful papers.

Co-creating a self-management model for people with neurological disorders

Joseph, who heads the Division of Physiotherapy, will spend six months – from January to June 2025 – at the University of Vermont in Burlington, US, where he will be hosted by Prof Reuben Escorpizo. The two worked together previously on a large, ongoing international project relating to spinal cord injuries.

“Through this connection, we've developed a shared interest in support mechanisms for people with neurological disorders," says Joseph. “While at Vermont, we will work on an education-related project defining core competencies needed to promote self-management in persons with neurological disorders for rehabilitation sciences programmes."

The project developed from the need for a more behavioural change approach to managing rehabilitation services, and a shift from “hands-on" interventions to developing problem-solving capabilities and health literacy and self-management education amongst patients with health conditions such as strokes, traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, etc.

“This project is of relevance to both South Africa and the US due to varying indigenous knowledge systems and explanatory models for health, wellbeing, disease and illness," explains Joseph. “To effectively guide towards self-management of health conditions it is essential to understand most of the explanatory models to ensure a culturally appropriate approach to building the therapeutic alliance and frameworks for enabling self-management."

He hopes his work will result in a “micro-curriculum containing constructs of self-management needed to effectively manage neurological conditions".

Joseph says he feels privileged to receive a Fulbright research award. “For as long as I've been in academia, it was always something I was striving to apply for one day and I was lucky to be successful."

He believes the award will provide further opportunities for networking and collaboration in the US.

“In my field and in the rehabilitation sciences, we have few collaborations with the US, yet there are several touchpoints and linkages with the US in terms of diversity, healthcare inequality, and social determinants of health and wellbeing that we can learn from."

Joseph says the Fulbright award also provides opportunities for networking and collaboration with the Fulbright network and alumni. He says he hopes to be an ambassador for South Africa, SU, as well as his Division and Department, whilst immersing himself in the culture and society of his host country.

“As the head of the Division of Physiotherapy, I also hope to promote the further internationalisation of my programme at SU."

​Caption: Professors Eileen Africa and Conran Joseph.