South African Journal of Psychiatry

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Designing an educational programme in mental health for general practitioners in South Africa

RJ Nichol, B de Klerk, GJ Van Zyl, JF Hay


Background. With the new Mental Health Care Act in use, additional  demands will be placed on general practitioners to provide adequate care for mental health patients. The College of Psychiatry of the Colleges of Medicine of South Africa awards a Postgraduate Diploma in Mental Health (PGDipMH) to medical doctors, but there is no standardised formal tuition or curriculum available to potential candidates.

Objectives. A study was undertaken to design a postgraduate programme using a six-step process to assist medical practitioners in preparing for the PGDipMH.

Methods. The Delphi research method, a nominal group technique for developing forecasts and trends based on the collective opinion of knowledgeable experts, was used. Data, obtained by means of closed  items in a questionnaire, were analysed, and the opinions and ideas of the expert respondents were used to adapt the formulated set of criteria for each subsequent round of Delphi. This process was repeated until 80% consensus or stability had been reached. After the last round, a framework and final set of criteria were compiled.

Results. The preferred mode of teaching was online distance learning utilising electronic learning and limited formal learning. The content
of the curriculum was based on the findings of the Delphi study experts. The programme as a complete entity contains six steps.

Conclusion. Using the recommendations and findings of the Delphi panel,  comprehensive programme was developed, which shows an appreciation for the interfaces between the different role-players (the patient/so-called mental healthcare user and the doctor as learner), outcomes-based education and distance learning.
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