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Nelson Mandela University’s innovative new medical school is a dream come true, not only for the university but also for the province.

There are now two medical schools in the Eastern Cape, with the new programme also breaking ground as the 10th medical school in SA.
It is an elite pool: the first students on the Missionvale campus in Gqeberha in March were selected from more than 5,000 applications.
Priority was given to 2020 matriculants from across the Eastern Cape from schools in quintiles 1-3.
Medical school co-ordinator Dr Elizabeth du Toit said the idea was to have students who were not only representative of the country’s population but who reflected the demographics of this province.
“One of our philosophies is to enable access, so we wanted to enrol at least 60% of students from non-fee-paying schools,” Du Toit said.
“Transformation in education, and specifically in medical education, has been pertinent for a long time.”
Former East London doctor Yoshna Kooverjee, who teaches theory and practice of medicine at the new school, outlined who they were looking for.
“Our graduates will be community-orientated, fit-for-purpose doctors who are skilled in practising the medicine that meets the needs of our communities,” Kooverjee said.
Graduates must also be able to reach across the Eastern Cape languages, predominantly isiXhosa, English and Afrikaans. Cultural awareness is another facet.
“We include the patient’s perspective —what their illness means to them in their cultural context and what they want from the doctor in terms of treatment,” Kooverjee said. “It’s about putting the patient at the centre of care. We’re moving away from the idea that a doctor is just a scientist imparting knowledge, and who tells you what needs to be done. Clinical communication is central to this process.” 
The underlying philosophy is to deliver graduates who are attuned for a primary health-care-oriented practice.
A solid foundation in the basic medical sciences, early community-based placements, and a focus on patient-centred care is key to being able to achieve this.
The medical school is a giant boost for public health and the local economy, as noted by the late Prof Lungile Pepeta.
The executive dean of the faculty of health sciences and a key driver in building the dream, Pepeta died in August 2020 after contracting Covid-19.
Learning and teaching deputy vice-chancellor Prof Cheryl Foxcroft said partnerships were key. “The collaborative engagements with our colleagues at Walter Sisulu University and the support we have had from all the other medical schools across the country enabled us to be ready to launch the new, unique medical programme successfully,” Foxcroft said.
“We look forward to collaborating with all our partner institutions, provincially and nationally, in producing fit-for-purpose, service-orientated and civic-minded medical professionals committed to making a difference in the lives of the disadvantaged.”
The new programme called for extensive funding: and so far, R127m from the state’s infrastructure and efficiency fund has been invested in establishing the medical school.
Further funding will be invested as part of the university’s safety and security implementation plan, and to improve water and electricity challenges, which will in turn benefit the surrounding community.
To manage costs, the university will depend heavily on the Eastern Cape health department for joint appointments of senior and specialist medical doctors.
NMU’s comprehensive approach to medicine focuses equally on the four pillars of medicine —disease prevention, health promotion, treatment and rehabilitative medicine.
The official Saqa confirmation came through in late D-cember 2020, and university vice-chancellor Prof Sibongile Muthwa said this approval was a welcome step.
Muthwa said the final accreditation had come at a significant time as SA was grappling with the coronavirus pandemic, placing even greater pressure on the health system—at the cost of losing the lives of colleagues in the health sector.
The dream that started in 1946 when a medical school in the western half of the province was first suggested has now come true.
This article appeared in The Daily Dispatch on 2 July 2021 written by Gillan McAinsh


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