It is well known that the recruitment to and retention of healthcare professionals at rural hospitals is a major challenge in South Africa. Many of them operate continually in crisis mode and are kept going by health professionals doing their one year of community service.
One element of the process of getting more healthcare professionals to rural hospitals is to change the way that they are taught during their undergraduate training at medical school. As part of its contribution to solving this problem, Wits Medical School established the chair of rural health in June 2002, the first position in South Africa and indeed Africa.
Consequently, the Wits Initiative for Rural Health Education was formed in 2003 to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds in rural areas in South Africa to study health sciences, based on the evidence of the greater likelihood of future rural practice by rural students. The programme is managed and run by a committed team headed by Professor Ian Couper, the first professor of rural health faculty.
In 2006 the integrated primary care rotation was launched as part of the curriculum. Students offer supervised service in primary care sites in Gauteng, North West and Mpumalanga, learning about the common health problems of disadvantaged communities, challenges of health service and the role of the healthcare team. The programme was awarded the Vice Chancellor’s team teaching award in 2008 and has been implemented, with local adaptation, at medical schools in Malawi and Mozambique.
A close relationship with the department of health has been extremely important because it allows the school to successfully achieve its primary goal of training healthcare professionals.
April 5 to 12 2012