NMMU announces launch of new Medical School - second one for province

JULY 25, 2016

Over the weekend, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) Vice-Chancellor Prof Derrick Swartz announced that the Government has given formal approval for the establishment of South Africa’s 10th Medical School at the NMMU in Port Elizabeth.

The momentous decision comes after years of campaigning by the University for the creation of a second medical school in the Eastern Cape Province, in addition to the existing one based at Walter Sisulu University (WSU) in Mthatha.

Says Prof Swartz, “For the city and region, and indeed the country, it is a truly historic decision, after many years of clamouring by parents, students, doctors and other healthcare professionals in the province. So this is absolutely fantastic news”.

The University received the news on 6 July, 2016 when the Minister of Higher Education and Training, 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 ten different health professional categories.  

This follows years of lobbying.

“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’,” says Prof 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”.

South Africa compares unfavourably with other middle-income countries in terms of medical doctors per 1000 population. In 2008, South Africa had 0.9 (medical professionals) per 1 000 population compared with Brazil at 1.9, Mexico 1.8, the UK 2.47 and Australia 2.3.

The United Kingdom has 120 000 doctors for a population of 60 million; South Africa, with a population over 50 million, only has approximately 27 000 doctors (World Health Organisation).

The country currently trains 1200 to 1300 medical doctors a year and needs to at least double up its numbers. The Eastern Cape, with a population (Stats SA, 2016) of 6.56 million is faced with huge healthcare and socio-economic challenges, with only one medical school located in Mthatha at WSU, which has an annual intake of around 150 students and graduating about 100 doctors and a small number of specialists each year.

According to NMMU Council Chair, Judge Ronnie Pillay, “the decision is long overdue. We have been sending our school-leavers for medical training, at great cost, to other provinces for decades now, while NMMU has modern infrastructure, a 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. 

“This has long been Council’s dream, and 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.”

Dr Nzimande has also requested his counterpart, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, the Minister of Health, 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 R72.3m 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. These 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.

Prof Vic Exner, Executive Dean of Health Sciences 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.

“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.”

Image: OFFERING A SERVICE … NMMU nursing students, along with all other students within its Faculty of Health Sciences, undertake internships throughout the community as part of their curriculum.