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Only a final sign-off is needed for the Eastern Cape to get its second medical school. The recruitment of students for SA’s second post-apartheid medical school at the Nelson Mandela University (NMU) in Port Elizabeth will start soon, with the first batch expected to start classes in January 2020.

This article appeared in Timeslive on 7 January 2019, written by Mpumzi Zuzile

The Cure Nelson Mandela University health science dean professor Lungile Pepeta in front of what will soon be the medical school at the university. Image: Mark West

The recruitment of students for SA’s second post-apartheid medical school at the Nelson Mandela University (NMU) in Port Elizabeth will start soon, with the first batch expected to start classes in January 2020.

This was revealed by NMU vice-chancellor Dr Sibongile Muthwa in an exclusive interview.

“We are waiting for our final accreditations from the Health Professional Council of South Africa (HPCSA) and the Council for Higher Education. We are waiting for final approvals. We are also awaiting final approval from health minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, and that will give us the final go-ahead,” Muthwa said.

She said the advertising for student recruitment would start between March and June, and staff recruitment was expected to start in July.

Muthwa said the medical school would fall under the university’s health science faculty and would be housed at their Missionvale Campus near Zwide township, Port Elizabeth.

“This campus is actually ideal, as it is closer to both Dora Nginza Hospital and Livingstone Hospital, which will be used for practical training,” she added.

NMU Health Sciences Dean Prof Lungile Pepeta said they had started the process of recruiting a project manager and health science portfolio educationist.

“These two posts are crucial for us getting all the accreditations,” he said.

With a budget of more than R200m to start the medical school, Pepeta said NMU needed as much as R800m for the school.

“Revamping of various buildings, including lecture halls and laboratories, began late in October 2018 at a budget of R86m. This is to ensure readiness for an accreditation visit by the HPCSA in March 2019. All facilities and supporting research and teaching equipment for hosting the MBChB degree must meet strict criteria. If this accreditation and all other necessary support and approvals are timeously received, the university is set to welcome its first cohort of 100 medical students in 2020,” Pepeta said.

He said the remaining R41m of the R127m received from the department of higher education and training towards establishing a medical school was for procurement of state-of-the-art equipment. This process is also under way.

The higher education department confirmed that a second medical school in the Eastern Cape was in the pipeline. The other medical school in the province is at the Walter Sisulu University in Mthatha.

Higher education spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele said: “The department is working on a plan to expand medical education in the country and a new competency is being planned for Nelson Mandela University. The two medical schools will operate within the Eastern Cape and increase the capacity of higher education sector to produce medical doctors and other health professionals.”

Ngqengelele said the two medical schools would work together and ensure the medical platform within the province would be shared to ensure effective production of medical professionals.

The SA Medical Association (Sama) welcomed the news.

Board member Dr Rhulani Ngwenya said: “This will help alleviate the shortage of doctors in the country.”

Ngwenya said the current nine medical schools were producing more than 1,900 doctors each year. There are more than 8,700 students currently studying medicine.

“This new school will reduce the pressure on WSU, which receives more than 2,000 applications each year but can only accommodate 200 medical students,” Ngwenya said.

Ngwenya, however, cautioned the health department to budget for the graduates who would need internships when completing their studies.

“Currently we have a huge problem of intern doctors who haven’t been placed. The department knows very well how important internship is for these doctors. As per our updated database, there are 22 doctors awaiting placement in total –15 community service doctors and seven interns, two of them are foreign-trained,” Pepeta said.

He said the department currently only accommodated interns who were born and trained in SA, the Cuban Nelson Mandela-Fidel Castro programme graduates and permanent resident graduates.

Ngwenya said Sama had had several engagements with health department officials over interns not being placed.

“We continue to engage them and voice the concerns raised to us. Ultimately, the final execution of demands made remains with the employer,” he said.

HPCSA spokesperson Priscilla Sekhonyana said there were more than 3,900 accredited intern and community service doctors posts.

“We currently have 1,880 intern and 1,470 community service doctors in the country,” Sekhonyana said.

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