South African Family Practice

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Developing primary health care and public health competencies in undergraduate medical students

Stephen E. Knight, Andrew J. Ross, Ozayr Mahomed


Background: The Selective Programme (Selectives) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) is a three-year longitudinal, community-based programme within the undergraduate medical curriculum, which aims to develop primary health care (PHC) and public health competencies in students using the community-oriented primary care (COPC) approach.

Aim: The aim of this research was to evaluate the Selectives against the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) ‘core’ graduate competencies.

Setting: This study was carried out among medical students concluding Selectives at UKZN in 2015.

Methods: A cohort of 183 students concluded Selectives in 2015, and thereafter 70 (38%) completed a routine online evaluation of the programme based on the core graduate competencies.

Results: Students reported substantial improvements in PHC clinical knowledge, improved understanding of a population perspective on health, and having gained public health knowledge and skills.

Conclusion: Selectives is an effective way to use a decentralised PHC learning platform to enable medical students to address some of the HPCSA graduate competencies required for health care professionals and not necessarily covered by other medical disciplines.

Keywords: community-based curriculum, community engagement, community-oriented primary care, KwaZulu-Natal, research training
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