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Change the world


The University's new Medical School gives students the opportunity to interact with the community from the start and looking back on 2021 this has been an enriching experience all round.

As Medical School Director Prof Fikile Nomvete says, community engagement is so much more than a slogan, it has to be an authentic and multi-dimensional process, and include the voices of others.

“This is not an ivory tower model, it is hands-on as our students go out into the community to meet the residents and hear their voices,” Nomvete explains.

“Even in this, with their first year disrupted by Covid-19, our new students have visited households and clinics in the surrounding areas. Visiting people in their home, standing with them where they are and listening to the story of their lives, yields an invaluable experience no textbook can give.”

The class of 50 medical students have visited the surrounding areas of Missionvale, Govan Mbeki, Zwide, Chatty, Gelvandale and West End, as well as clinics and NGOs Ubuntu Pathways and Missionvale Care Centre.

“Community visits orientate us and remind us that this is where the actual work is,” said first year student Qasim Osman.

“When we think of doctors we think of hospitals and of white coats and scrubs but that's not all that doctors do as, if we can prevent disease before it happens, it's far more effective.

“And this is especially so with the healthcare system in South Africa which is severely burdened.”

Reaching into communities

Community platform coordinator Marie Williams said the household visits needed to be carefully planned in consultation with local clinics long before students meet the residents.

The first year module of Theory and Practice of Medicine has three streams: theory, medical communication and community, and Williams works on the third of these.

“Our model is very much community based so we start by asking the clinic managers to help identify the households and for permission to bring the students,” Williams said.

Accompanied by a ward-based outreach team (WBOT) leader, Williams then visits each family twice. On the first visit she will get to know the residents, and answer their questions, “I’m basically telling the story of the Medical School to the community”.

If the household is willing, Williams will return on another date for official written consent. Only after this do the students go out, in teams, to get the practical experience linked to what they are learning in the classroom.

“When the students go to the households they are accompanied by a community mentor who is familiar with the area, and that's very important.”

Students will return to the same households 2022, with new households identified for the new class of 2022.

On the student visit to Ubuntu Pathways in Zwide in October, for example, students learned about mission, vision and  the integrated services rendered by the non-governmental organisation.

Making services accessible

Ubuntu external liaison manager Ziyanda Ndyoko said the visits helped the NGO and the university.

“The partnership between Ubuntu Pathways and the University will benefit both parties and the community at large by changing the lives and making the services accessible to under-resourced and vulnerable people,” said Ndyoko.

She hopes that by showing the students the Ubuntu programmes, more may “gain passion to work in the community or public sector to serve those who are under privileged”.

“They shadowed nurses, a doctor,  pharmacist, data capturers and caseworkers at the paediatric clinic,” Ndyoko said. They also shadowed other staff at the vaccination site at Ubuntu, and were given an overview of the centre’s facilities such as its job skills training and early childhood development programmes, its school and dietetics services .

Community visits have taken some of the students into areas they had never visited before, opening up a whole new world for some.

“While initially daunting, it has been very eye-opening and humbling to visit households in these areas,” first year Anita Ellary said. “I look forward to learning more (about myself and the community).”

Missionvale Care Centre community outreach supervisor Esterlene Campbell said the medical students were “so vibrant and interested in what we were doing”.

Missionvale Care Centre also left an impression on her classmate Zamokhule Ngema.

“I learnt that not everything is about money, small things accumulate to make a big difference. It is amazing to see how it all began, and the way people at the centre give love and compassion,” said Ngema.

Fellow student Matthew Harrison echoed the views of his peers when he said: “It is extremely inspiring and motivating to witness the impact the passionate healthcare professionals at these places have, especially right from the beginning of our studies.”

Students Anita Ellary and Tshepo Mpelo take notes from Ubuntu Pathways nurse Angela Kokezela

Ubuntu Pathways team coordinator Sipuxolo Toni briefs a group of medical students visiting the centre in Zwide

Ubuntu Pathways vaccination intern Portia Tsibaphi and medical student Caitlin du Preez check on COVID-19 screening

Missionvale Care Centre welcomes Nelson Mandela University students on one of their community outreach visits

Contact information
Mrs Debbie Derry
Deputy Director: Communication
Tel: 041 504 3057