Today the Western Cape Government (WCG) announced an initiative between Stellenbosch University (SU) and Mediclinic Southern Africa that enables Stellenbosch University medical students to undergo part of their training at accredited Mediclinic hospitals.

The programme was initiated as a pilot project in 2014 at Mediclinic Durbanville in partnership with the SU Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS). Fourth and fifth year medical students can now complete their four-week long internal medicine rotations at the hospital, and receive clinical training from private sector doctors. The students accompany the doctors on their ward rounds and to their rooms and are given the opportunity to assist the doctors with the management of patients.

The project was the initiative of executive head of the department of medicine of the FMHS, Professors Rafique Moosa, Chairman of the undergraduate programme in general internal medicine of the FMHS, Elvis Irusen, and two specialist doctors with practices at Mediclinic Durbanville – radiologist, Dr René Truter, and internal medicine specialist, Dr Rust Theron.

Prof. Moosa said “The pilot project was very carefully planned and we are very pleased that it has been received so positively. We have to give credit to all the stakeholders for being so brave to go on this journey with us. I would highlight that two of the success factors have been the wonderful support of Mediclinic Durbanville and the specialists coming on board.”

“It is the first time that such a programme for the formal training of undergraduate students in the private sector has been successfully implemented. We can now roll it out knowing that it is a winning project,” continued Prof. Moosa.

According to CEO: Mediclinic Southern Africa, Koert Pretorius, the chronic shortage of healthcare professionals is not a problem unique to South Africa. “We face a set of challenges that requires the cooperation of all parties in order to achieve an equitable solution, particularly as they affect all stakeholders in the sector.Mediclinic Southern Africa has formed an enduring relationship with the University of Stellenbosch, where we have, over the years, assisted various departments within the health sciences faculty. It therefore makes sense for us to join forces with them to provide additional learning experiences for medical students.”

“By providing training in the private hospital context, we have the opportunity to expose future doctors to other facets of medical care that they would not necessarily experience in the public hospitals. We believe this more rounded approach will enable them to be better clinicians and, in the long term, we hope this will contribute towards the delivery of affordable and accessible quality healthcare to a greater cross-section of South Africa’s people,” concluded Pretorius.

Prof. Jimmy Volmink, dean of the FMHS, said: “The healthcare training platform is under tremendous pressure as we respond to the urgent need to increase the number of doctors and other health workers in South Africa. Extending our partnership with the private sector is vital to realise the broader objective of universal access to health care.”

Based on the success of the pilot project, the FMHS and Mediclinic have agreed to expand the programme to three other hospitals in the Mediclinic group, namely Cape Gate, Louis Leipoldt and Panorama. The two parties are in the process of drawing up a Memorandum of Agreement which they hope to sign shortly.

Director of the Centre for Health Professions Education and MB,ChB programme coordinator at the FMHS, Prof. Ben van Heerden, commented: “The faculty and the MB,ChB programme committee are very excited about this collaboration with the private sector. Not only does it offer the opportunity for our students to be exposed to another important component of the country’s health system, but also exposure to a different patient and disease profile than what would ordinarily be encountered in the public sector.”

The specialists at Mediclinic Durbanville received accreditation by the FMHS to train students. All participating staff attended a short course to ensure they are equipped to transfer the appropriate skills and knowledge to the students.

According to Deputy Dean of Education of the FMHS, Prof. Marietjie de Villiers, the feedback from students and lecturers has been very positive. “Even the patients welcome the initiative, because they say the student-doctors are able to spend more time with them.”

According to Prof. Moosa the benefits to the students include that they see a full spectrum of patients and that they are given one-to-one tutoring, which is quite unique and not something they would experience in public sector hospitals.

“The students and the physicians now hold regular meetings where cases are presented and discussed. The physicians, by the nature of their work, are able to provide the first rate teaching and the environment lends itself to good teaching material. As the students are in their fourth year, they are not complete novices which means they can meaningfully engage with the physicians. The feedback from all parties has been extremely positive,” said Prof. Moosa.

Minister Thenus Botha supported the initiative from the beginning, and commented: “I welcome the agreement between both institutions – Mediclinic in their capacity as a private sector hospital, and SU as a training institution – to promote the concept of health professions training.”

“It is the objective of WCG to effect legislative changes to enable the private sector to become involved on a considerable scale in the training of doctors in South Africa. At present it is not possible because medical training is public sector driven. It is not reasonable to expect the private sector to accept co-responsibility for healthcare, but prohibit them from participation in training. The private sector is involved in the training of nursing staff, and I see no reason why this cannot be expanded to medical doctors.“

“The issue of the shortage of doctors in South Africa is well-known, as well as the dire need to improve public healthcare.  The relevant legislation needs to provide a framework where both the public and the private sector accept responsibility to take on the challenge that lies ahead,” conlcuded Minister Botha.