In a bid to meet dire shortages of health care employees in the Eastern Cape, a new emergency medical care degree will be offered by Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) from next year.
The four-year degree, which was given the final go-ahead by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) this week, will form one of the first building blocks towards a fully-fledged Medical School for NMMU by 2020, and offer paramedic students unique training opportunities.
Bachelor of Emergency Medical Care (BEMC) students will especially benefit from the university’s location – at the coast and within easy reach of the rural interior – while working in tandem with the pre-hospital Emergency Medical Services (EMS), the provincial EMS College and the city’s six hospitals. Adding to the unique experience will be the integration of students with some of the best volunteer organisations in the country – the metro’s National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI), the Mountain Club of SA’s Search and Rescue team and SA Lifesaving.
These degree students will further benefit from the specialised intensive care programme already offered by NMMU’s nursing department.
“The university has a head start with this degree because of the superb combination of being able to integrate our training with voluntary bodies and the medical fraternity in an easily accessible environment,” says programme manager Nico Louw.
Louw is one of just three graduate paramedics in the entire Eastern Cape. The province only has 51 advanced life support paramedics, of 2 305 nationally. This is a ratio of one to 129 411 patients, compared to the South African norm of 1: 21 258.
“This means it will take us at least 13 years to attain the norm even if we are to produce 20 paramedics a year. We are convinced that the initiation of this programme will significantly contribute to the upliftment of emergency medical services – not only in the Eastern Cape but ultimately in South Africa,” says Louw.
“The Department of Health in the Eastern Cape recognises the enormous need and is behind the initiative to produce the highest level of paramedics,” says Louw, adding that news of the new qualification had been welcomed by everyone in the business of saving lives in the region.
“The arrival of the paramedic training programme in the Eastern Cape is exciting because this creates an opportunity for interaction between the club and the students. The results of this interaction will have positive spin-offs for both sides, and ultimately strengthen the volunteer mountain rescue response in the province,” says Tim Jones, Search and Rescue Co-ordinator of the Eastern Province section of the Mountain Club of South Africa.
Prospective students need an Admission Point Score of 36, with English, maths, physical science and life science as pre-requisites to study this degree as it covers both the medical and rescue side of saving lives.
“You have to be intelligent, emotionally strong, physically fit and want to serve. There are no trumpets when it comes to saving lives – just the personal satisfaction that you have saved a life.”
With plans in place to start a medical school at NMMU, the B(EMC) programme will be the only paramedic degree in South Africa to reside hand-in-hand with a medical school, once the new school is established. This is expected to be by 2020, with the first medical undergraduate degree starting in 2018.
According to Louw, all prospective students for the B(EMC) will undergo selection process which includes a full medical report, a rigorous physical assessment and an interview by a team within the newly-formed School of Clinical Sciences in the Faculty of Health Sciences.
“A paramedic works at the rock face of emergencies in all environments. He or she has to be able to withstand it all,” says Louw, stressing the importance of fitness since assessments are repeated annually.
Apart from school-leavers, Louw is hopeful that a number of those already working in the industry will apply for the degree programme.
“Improving your qualification to that of a degree is the ultimate goal for many already working in the industry. I have already received more than 40 inquiries about the new degree,” says Louw whose department is focused on serving the needs of the province by providing opportunities for further development like CPD accreditation, relevant short courses, research initiatives and more.
“Weekend duty will be the norm for our students so that they develop a mindset of serving the public from the outset,” says Louw, who completed an industrial engineering degree before following his passion as a paramedic.
An added benefit of studying the qualification at NMMU, one of only five places in South Africa offering the degree, is that students will be exposed to the well-established Intensive Care Unit (ICU) training already in place within the Department of Nursing Science.
“Paramedics are the ones tasked with overseeing ICU patient transfers using sophisticated equipment. At NMMU we have exceptional facilities in which to undertake this training.”
The metro’s close proximity to the rural areas means that EMC students will be able to assist with long-distance ambulance transfers and offer a measure of professionalism in terms of ethics and clinical knowledge.
These businesses support MyPE:
MyPE supports PE business: