When I am standing in one of our medical school lecture halls at Nelson Mandela University’s Missionvale campus, I almost don’t believe that we have come this far. People have been waiting for a medical school in Port Elizabeth since 1946.
It’s a giant boost for public health and the local economy.
Launching a fully operational medical school has required prudent planning, as the total funding required from the department of higher education and training was not available.
That’s when we came up with the idea to repurpose buildings on the Missionvale campus to meet our needs.
These include lecture halls; a skills laboratory for second to final year medical students; basic science laboratories for physics, chemistry, physiology and anatomy; more than 60 offices for medical staff members; and new spaces for the medical school at the Dora Nginza hospital and the associated clinics.
We deliberately chose the Missionvale campus for our medical school — the 10th in South Africa — because it is located in the township areas of Missionvale and Zwide, populated by working class, unemployed and financially strapped communities. The Missionvale campus was originally part of the old Vista University, built for black people during the apartheid years. Situating the medical school here is about committing to proper healthcare for all our communities, and contributing to urban renewal and development.
Before we can open applications for the six-year MBChB degree, starting in 2021, the programme’s curriculum, together with the infrastructure and equipment, must be approved during a site visit by the Health Professions Council of South Africa and the Council on Higher Education. The site visit is from 28 October to 1 November this year and we are ready.
One hundred medical students will be selected for the first MBChB cohort in 2021. Our first choice will be matriculants from the Eastern Cape with a matric pass rate of 60% or more, and we require maths, physical science, life science and English. BSc students wanting to switch to medicine must have a pass rate of at least 60%. There will be an 80% matric admission from schools (60% from non-fee-paying schools) and 20% from universities.
Staffing wise, we are receiving CVs from throughout South Africa and internationally: people at all levels want to be part of our new medical school, and many have said they are keen to move to Port Elizabeth. Our staffing needs are considerable. The basic sciences courses alone require more than 60 staff.
The medical programme director has been appointed and started on October 1. He is Professor Mfanufikile Nomvete, a gastroenterologist from Livingstone Hospital and the former head of its internal medicine department. All the clinicians at the provincial hospitals in the Nelson Mandela Metro (Livingstone, Dora Nginza and Port Elizabeth Provincial) and at the private hospitals are extremely excited about the medical school. The whole health services platform will improve in the province once the medical school is up and running.
From first year to final year, our students will train in communities in the urban and peri-urban environment in the metro, and in district hospitals in the Eastern Cape, including Cradock, Graaff-Reinet, Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) and Humansdorp. In all these centres we will have district extensions of our campus, with accommodation and lecture rooms where our students will link to the main campus using audiovisual technology to participate in lectures, conferences and procedures. We also intend to work with the private sector to train our students. Talks about this are ongoing. We must use all the resources we have to train the best medical practitioners for our country.
Our medical school will be the first in South Africa to use leading global technology for interactive anatomical education, radiology, surgery and research. An example are the Anatomage virtual anatomy dissection tables, which feature the full external and internal anatomy of the male and female body, with all the realism of living humans.
The 3D-body platform enables students to rotate the biodigital human using their fingers trackpad-style, and the body can be “cut” and operated on with the system’s touch-interactive cutting tools.
Our medical school programme is also unique in South Africa. It’s a comprehensive approach to medicine that will focus equally on the four pillars — disease prevention, health promotion, treatment and rehabilitative medicine. The system produces comprehensive general family physicians, appropriately trained both for South Africa’s medical and health needs, and in how to best serve diverse communities. We have also incorporated our faculty’s philosophy of interprofessional education, meaning all health professionals will train together in our communities and share expertise in their respective areas.
To develop our model, we incorporated some of the best elements of the Cuban medical training model. I visited Cuba and experienced first-hand the quality and appropriateness of their medical training for our country’s needs. In Cuba 80% of medical practitioners are comprehensive general or specialist family physicians; only 20% are specialists in other areas of medicine or are super-specialists. In South Africa, there is a far higher percentage of specialists, with many in private practice or emigrating overseas.
The Cuban system laid the foundation for top specialists, such as Dr Khanyisa Makamba who was among the first cohort of South Africans to be trained in Cuba, and who subsequently went on to specialise in urology in South Africa. He is head of urology at Livingstone Hospital and he will be joining our medical school.
We have to start looking after the health of 84% of the population in far more comprehensive and holistic ways, and I believe that the four-pillar system is the best population-wide and budget-spend approach. There is so much more we can do to improve South Africans’ health, quality of life and lifespan and I am confident that our new medical school will help us achieve this.
Professor Lungile Pepeta is a paediatric cardiologist and executive dean of the faculty of health sciences at Nelson Mandela University