Change the world


SA’s 10th medical school opens its doors this year at Nelson Mandela University after the idea of building a medical school in Port Elizabeth was first mooted in the 1940s.

The hope of generations has now become a reality which will help to address the critical shortage of medical professionals in SA, which falls far below the World Health Organisation’s recommended ratio of doctors to population.

Not only will our new programme address a pressing need at a time when healthcare resources are stretched to their limits due to the coronavirus pandemic, it will also build the professionals of the future through a progressive curriculum, embedded in a social accountability framework geared to maximise the positive impact for local communities.

What is really exciting about our medical school is this strong community-based approach, aimed at producing doctors who can compete globally but who also have a deep passion to help the poor.

This is why NMU has intentionally placed its new programme in the heart of Missionvale, a Port Elizabeth township where people face severe socioeconomic hardships.

Through experiential learning here, our students will come to understand SA’s health-care needs, as Missionvale faces the same triple blight of unemployment, poverty and injustice seen in so many other parts of our country.

They will learn about associated health challenges, such as TB and HIV/Aids for example, and many more.

Our physical position here is extremely important as our students will be focused on health and not just disease.

Being able to treat disease is, of course, essential but this programme also is focused on maintaining health, emphasising preventive and promotive health, and population and community health.

Thus we will be teaching our students to go beyond the clinical setting to figure out patients’ real needs in their daily lives, so that they not only follow through on treatment but also live healthy lives, whatever their environment.

As a faculty of health sciences, it’s vital to understand health disparities in underserved communities, accounting to large parts of our country and continent, and how to address these.

This is a major part of our mission to co-create with our partners a socially just, healthy and sustainable world.

This inevitably means that, in alignment with the National Development Plan for 2030, there will be a focus on primary and preventive health-care, with interprofessional education and collaborative practice (IPECP) an essential building block.

NMU’s faculty of health sciences has a very strong IPECP approach, offering qualifications in 11 health professions.

These include nursing, emergency medical care, radiography, biokinetics, human movement science, dietetics, pharmacy, environmental health, medical laboratory services, psychology, and social development. Medicine is now the 12th. The medical school is a critical development, but it does not stand alone as it is built on a solid foundation.

The golden strand of this is that of a full interprofessional team who will hold hands with others in changing lives and making health-care accessible and visible to the underresourced and underserved.

As the late Nelson Mandela once cautioned: “The important thing to remember is that no single person can do everything”. Moreover, this is framed through deep respect for others, recognising the vulnerable and building upon our collective African heritage.

This is a mission of collaboration and partnership, not of self-interest.

Another exciting aspect to the new medical school is its technological focus, as we have some of the best equipment and latest technology to train and teach our students on the Missionvale campus.

In addition, we have wonderful faculty who are experts in their fields.

With these factors, perhaps it is not surprising that after applications opened in January, NMU received nearly 5,000 applications for its 50 first-year MBChB spaces.

Partnerships with others are key: all medical schools in SA facilitate a close relationship with the department of health, for example, as well as the department of higher education & training.

Partnerships with provincial government will enable our students to train at Dora Nginza, Livingstone and PE Provincial hospitals and, as the programme develops, at Uitenhage Provincial Hospital, and at Settlers in Makhanda.

Though Walter Sisulu University in Mthatha was the first to have a medical school in our province (NMU is now the second), we envision a collaborative effort where we learn from each other.

Medical schools are part of large clinical research projects through clinical trials that lead not only to an impact in health-care delivery, but also to numerous research publications, adding to the body of medical science knowledge.

In general, a thriving and successful medical school has a strong commitment not only to produce fit-for-purpose graduates, but also has the health and wellbeing of its host communities at heart.

We want to teach the lesson that a great medical practitioner is dedicated to serving others.

This entails nurturing the human face of medicine, by preparing students who are lifelong learners at ease in a community-based health-care setting, or in a highly technologically advanced health-care setting.

Our new medical school indeed provides a great opportunity to deliver on our mandate to be a university in service to society, in solidarity against inequality.

This article appeared in The Herald (South Africa) on 25 February 2021, written by Prof Dalena van Rooyen, Acting Dean, Faculty of Health Sciences, Nelson Mandela University.


Contact information
Prof Dalena Van Rooyen
Deputy Dean
Tel: 041 504 2960