An interesting debate focussed on transforming education to strengthen health systems for today’s health professionals was heard during a journal club meeting of the recently formed Health Professions Education Research Group


The debate was led by Professor Sabiha Essack, Dean and Head of the School of Health Sciences in the College of Health Sciences (CHS), while the meeting was chaired by Dr Veena Singaram from the Teaching and Learning Office.


The discussion was framed around the Lancet Paper - Health Professionals for a New Century: Transforming Education to Strengthen Health Systems in an Interdependent World.


The aim is for a thorough and authoritative re-examination of health professional education to develop a shared vision and common strategy for post-secondary education in medicine, nursing and public health that transcends national borders and silos of individual professions.


The journal club – run by the CHS - discussed possible ways forward in joint planning, reviewed academic systems, global networks and the promotion of the culture of critical inquiry.


Essack said problems with the current health systems included prominent inequities and gaps between and with countries; failure to share dramatic health advances equitably; health insecurity resulting from new infectious, environmental and behavioural risks in the context of rapid demographic and epidemiological changes.


Furthermore, health systems were complex and costly putting greater demand on health workers. There were quantitative and qualitative imbalances in professional labour markets while leadership had been weak in improving health systems performance.


She said problems within education systems highlighted that health challenges had outpaced curriculum reform with the fragmented, out-dated and static curricula producing ill-equipped health graduates. There was a mismatch of competencies and patient/population needs; poor teamwork; gender bias of professional status; narrow technical focus without contextual understanding; episodic encounters as opposed to a continuum of care, and hospi-centric as opposed to primary healthcare-based approaches.


Essack said the professional education system needed to design new instructional and educational strategies to have a positive effect on health outcome.


A vision had been set out for all health professionals in all countries to be educated to mobilise knowledge and to engage in critical reasoning and ethical conduct so that they were competent to participate in patient and population-centred health systems as members of locally responsive and globally connected teams.


This would assure universal coverage of the high quality comprehensive services that were essential to advance opportunity for health equity within and between countries.


Essack said the goal was transformative and interdependent professional education for equity in health. To realise this goal, mobilising leadership, enhancing investments, aligning accreditation and strengthening global learning were highlighted as some of the enabling actions to be taken.


These actions needed to be competency-driven and IT-empowered, measure up on a local-global scale, and have educational resources and a new level of professionalism


The South African Committee of Health Science Deans is hosting a conference on the Westville campus on 3 July on “Training Competent Healthcare Professionals for the 21st Century: Challenges and Solutions”.


Essack is co-founder and Chair of the Committee.

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