The College of Health Sciences’ (CHS) Teaching and Learning office hosted a stimulating Health Professions Education Research Symposium as a prelude to the 6th South African Association of Health Educationalists (SAAHE) Conference being held for the first time in Durban in June next year.

The SAAHE Conference takes place at the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV (K-RITH) at UKZN under the theme: “Information to Transformation”.

SAAHE’s focus on improving the quality of teaching and learning in health sciences education aims to enhance the delivery of high quality, affordable and sustainable health care to South Africans in both the public and the private sectors.

Health Sciences Education is one of six innovative research themes identified by College management to align its strategic endeavours to those of the University.

Professor Fikile Mtshali, College Dean for Teaching and Learning, said the new theme was reinforced by the CHS mission to facilitate and ensure high quality research that would underpin and inform teaching, clinical practice and community service; generate credibility with stakeholders, and build global recognition for innovative solutions to health issues and problems.

‘The innovations in the teaching and learning cosmos are aimed at ensuring that the students, the College and the University community are best served through the practice of scholarly supervision.’

The symposium united delegates from a variety of institutions of higher learning and included an address by Professor Juanita Bezuidenhout, an Anatomical Pathologist based at Stellenbosch University.

Bezuidenhout’s presentation was titled: “Hope begins at home: where does Health Profession Education Research fit into producing health professionals for the 21st century”.

Bezuidenhout reflected on Flexner’s Report - the historically significant book-length study of medical education in the United States and Canada -  and said currently all was not well in the world. There were gaps and inequity in health; new infections, environmental and behavioural risks at a time of rapid demographic and epidemiological transitions; and health systems were more complex and costly, placing additional demands on health workers. She outlined several systematic problems that hindered health workers from achieving common purpose.

She said the underlying principles for success included developing a culture of critical investigation and inquiry involving policy-makers, and fostering global networks and collaboration.

The symposium aimed to allow delegates to reflect on teaching and learning related research and collaborations; engage in consensus building to establish the aim and objectives of the Health Sciences Education theme; identify emerging subthemes and other critical subthemes to build a well-rounded Health Sciences Research area; generate strategies to enhance research capacity, interest and grounding in Health Sciences Research Education; and provide guidance on how to access available research resources and funding opportunities.

The symposium was supported by Professor Rob Slotow, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the CHS, who said the College strategy highlighted the need to move from a practitioner training approach to a research-led endeavour that enhanced evidence-based best-practice. Slotow said it was important for delegates to discuss the importance of reflective practice, and the value it could add to the teaching and learning endeavour.

Dr Veena Singaram, Regional Chair for SAAHE KwaZulu-Natal and the CHS’s Health Professions Education Research Committee, said the symposium had also been an opportunity for novice and experienced CHS staff and postgraduate students to collaborate and share expertise in this emerging research area.

The symposium concluded with a workshop focusing on a consensus building framework for research strategies in health professions education.

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