Should educators only focus on teaching future healthcare practitioners the biomedical facts required for the profession, or should they also include aspects of social responsibility?
This was the question posed by Cecilia Jacobs, an associate professor in the Centre for Health Professions Education (CHPE), in her state-of-the-art address at the 66th Annual Academic Day of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS), Stellenbosch University (SU).
In her thought-provoking lecture entitled 'Health Professions Education – whence and whither', Jacobs said that it is important to incorporate biomedical knowledge and clinical competence, as well as social responsibility and critical consciousness into the curriculum.
She argued that in order to develop future healthcare professionals who are both clinically competent and socially responsive, health professions educators need to design curricula that are socially responsive and develop graduates who will be “critically conscious future healthcare professionals".
Jacobs, who specialises in higher education studies, has extensive experience in preparing academics for their teaching roles. Her current research focuses on the question of knowledge and the importance of its centrality in debates on higher education teaching and learning.
There have been many calls for responsive curricula in Health Professions Education (HPE), including one made in the Lancet journal in 2010. “More recent literature emphasizes the need for HPE curricula to be more responsive to societal needs," she added.
Jacobs cited research by SU academics that formed part of a broader study involving six universities in South Africa. “The basic premise for the study was that disease is managed in the context of a healthcare system. Therefore, addressing inequity and social injustice within healthcare systems needs to become part of how future healthcare professionals are educated, and hence how curricula are designed."
She said the study, which ran from 2019 to 2022, demonstrated that there were different perspectives on who should take responsibility for curricula that are socially responsive. “The analysis showed that participants across the six institutions understood the need to deliver such curricula, but had differing opinions about whose responsibility it was. Some participants felt it was the responsibility of HPE teachers, while others felt it was everyone's responsibility."
The other area where there were different perspectives was on whether the implementation of a responsive curriculum should be integrated across all modules in a programme or if only some curriculum components should be developing social responsiveness. “Some participants saw it as a process to be integrated throughout all modules; others saw it as a body of content to be addressed in a single module."
“These are some of the issues we need to think about, going forward in the field of HPE," Jacobs said.