MPS 2018 Ethics Alive Winning Essay: Witnessing injustice: What is the student’s role in advocating for patients?
By the time they graduate, South African (SA) health sciences students are armed with all the necessary tools required to diagnose and treat patients. However, patient care is comprised of more than simply identifying and treating a combination of symptoms. A patient’s state of health is determined by more than biological factors – the circumstances that they face outside the hospital setting directly affect their wellbeing as well. Identifying vulnerable patients and managing their health holistically should therefore be an integral part of health education. This will ensure a future in which SA healthcare professionals apply the biopsychosocial approach in patient care. The country’s healthcare system is currently riddled with structural and systemic barriers that exist because of its tumultuous history. These barriers are yet to be rectified to provide healthcare that is equitable and accessible to all South Africans. This article deals with the role that the health sciences students of today play in identifying the various ways in which the current SA health system benefits certain demographics, while leaving others marginalised and without access to appropriate healthcare. The role that students can play in advocating for the rights of the patient who is denied equitable healthcare, and the skills required to do so, are also explored.