The government has formally approved the establishment of South Africa’s 10th Medical School at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in Port Elizabeth (PE).

The decision comes after years of the university’s campaign for the establishment of a second medical school in the Eastern Cape Province, in addition to the existing Walter Sisulu University in Mthatha.

According to NMMU Vice-Chancellor, Professor Derrick Swartz, the university received the news on 6 July 2016 when Higher Education and Training Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, requested NMMU both to proceed with creating a new medical school by 2020 and to expand its existing portfolio of health sciences programmes in 10 different health professional categories.

“We assembled an expert group, consulted widely with healthcare professionals, looked at international best practices and developed a 10-year Master Plan entitled ‘Blueprint for a medical degree: transforming health science education to support equity in health’,” said Professor Swartz.

The Master Plan proposes radical intervention to improve access, relevance, quality and transformative graduate attributes with a strong focus on increasing access to rural and poor youth linked to community and local economic development.

“We have been sending school-leavers for medical training at great cost to other provinces for decades, while NMMU has modern infrastructure, strong health sciences faculty, plenty of land in a city with highly skilled medical professionals, a sophisticated private sector, three major public hospitals, with one (Dora Nginza) originally built to accommodate a future medical training facility,” said NMMU Council Chairperson, Judge Ronnie Pillay.

“I want to applaud all council members for being so steadfast in pursuing this goal. I am also confident the medical fraternity will support and participate in this exciting development,” continued Pillay.

Executive Dean of Health Sciences at NMMU, Professor Vic Exner, said: “The past four and a half years have been most exciting and challenging, transforming and re-aligning existing faculty structures and programmes, crafting new offerings, and promoting a bio-psycho-social approach to South Africa’s healthcare and lifestyle management challenges.”

Professor Exner added that strong, rigorous clinical training is indispensable, but “so too is the need for models to transcend the limits of traditional approaches, and the exploration of holistic healthcare strategies that will embed medical training in wider human capabilities required for a healthy and prosperous nationhood to emerge.”

Minister Nzimande has requested Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi to seek the desired policy directive from the National Health Council to commence preparation of the clinical training platforms that will be required to support a medical school at NMMU.

In an early indication of its support, the Department of Higher Education in 2014 provided R72.3 million over three years to NMMU to set up, among other things, new pre-medical programmes to allow for multi-entry-options towards the MBChB degree.

The students may then qualify for third-year MBChB enrolment in 2020, which is also the target year for intake of NMMU’s first year school-leavers for the same degree.

Starting with an initial total intake of 50, the numbers will grow incrementally to 200 under-graduate students, as well as starting to introduce medical specialist training programmes.

The country currently trains 1,200 to 1,300 medical doctors a year and needs to at least double up its numbers.

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