The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) moved a step closer to having a fully-fledged medical school when its Council agreed in principle (on Friday) to support bold new initiatives by the university to meet an ever-growing national need for qualified healthcare professionals.
With the National Health Insurance (NHI) plan imminent, the university is embarking on a “step-ladder” approach towards its long-term goal of establishing a medical school by systematically introducing a number of key qualifications in the field of healthcare.
A full meeting of the NMMU Council, chaired by Judge Ronnie Pillay, agreed to plan and “actively support” the establishment of a medical school at NMMU in a bid to meet healthcare skills requirements for the country, and especially the Eastern Cape. It recognised vast support among communities for such a medical school.
The university has already revamped its Faculty of Health Sciences into four new schools, introduced a new BSc Dietetics degree and a pharmacy assistant’s qualification, and is working closely with key stakeholders, including the Ministry of Health, the Health Professions Council of South Africa, the Council for Higher Education, provincial government and Walter Sisulu University, to ensure that an undergraduate degree for medical doctors is in place by 2018.
An expert reference group will meet at the university on 23 October to assist in developing a blueprint for the medical undergraduate programme.
Vice-Chancellor, Prof Derrick Swartz said: “There is widespread support from healthcare professionals in the city and region for creation of a medical school at NMMU, in addition to expansion of healthcare training programmes, to address urgent needs to support the nation’s healthcare demands.
“Port Elizabeth and the region already have a large number of public and private hospitals and clinics, which could benefit from, and contribute significantly to, a new medical school. NMMU is located, principally, in a major city with all its locational advantages, a strong administrative base, and a rapidly growing Faculty of Health Sciences on the basis of which a future medical school would be a natural evolutionary step. Naturally, we will have to consult widely, including with other universities, as well as also the Ministries of Health and Higher Education”.
In the interim, a key three-year “clinical associate” degree programme (B(CMP)), with training to start in 2015, has been approved by the university’s academic governing body, Senate and awaits final approval by the CHE, HPCSA and the Minister of Health. Clinical associates are qualified to assess patients, make diagnoses, prescribe treatment and do minor surgery under the supervision of a doctor.
Other changes aligned to the long-term planning by the faculty include the introduction of:
- A new four-year degree for emergency medical care practitioners – B(EMC) for 2014
- New four-year degrees in Radiography (BHS (Radio)), Medical Laboratory Sciences (BHS (Med Lab Sc)), Nursing (BNursing Sc) for 2014 and Environmental Health (BHS (EH)) and Biokinetics (BHSc (Biokinetics) for 2015
New postgraduate degrees:
- A master’s degree for “specialist pharmacists” for 2015
- A master’s degree in Dietetics for 2014
In responding to a national need to “beef up” dire shortages of healthcare professionals, including doctors, NMMU will take a more trans-disciplinary approach to its training by introducing modules common to all health disciplines. Nursing, radiography, emergency medical care and clinical associates, for example, will share at least 11 modules.
Such an approach will allow for training across a broad community-based platform and provide greater access for talented applicants whose schooling may not have been top notch.
“It will allow us to develop a new type of health professional and eventually a doctor who chooses to work in the communities most in need,” says Prof Vic Exner, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, who will be presenting a full briefing on Tuesday on the university’s trajectory towards a medical school by 2020. This is all in line with the university’s Vision 2020 strategic plan.
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