Academics and professional personnel in the College of Health Sciences participated in a workshop held to discuss how to incorporate health advocacy into the Health Sciences curriculum.

Workshop on Incorporating Health Advocacy into Health Sciences Curriculum

The College of Health Sciences in partnership with the Rural Health Advocacy Project (RHAP), hosted a workshop titled: Incorporating Health Advocacy into the Health Sciences Curriculum.

The workshop attracted both academics and professional personnel in the College to debate the importance of incorporating health advocacy in the Health Sciences curriculum and how incorporation could be achieved, as well as the challenges of teaching health advocacy.

‘As a Health Sciences Teaching and Learning institution, health advocacy is one of the seven core competencies to be acquired by health sciences graduates,’ said Dean of Teaching and Learning, Professor Sinegugu Duma. ‘It should therefore be a priority because our current situation demands students know how to call for what they want, what they should have and what they need as well as to advocate for the health needs of the communities they serve. Our students are speaking out against social injustice and our current context demands reform strategies and critical thinking.’

The Manager of Knowledge Management at RHAP, Ms Samantha Khan-Gillmore, defined advocacy as an active promotion of a cause or principle involving action to change policies and practices, make a broader impact, reform institutions, alter power relations and change attitudes/behaviours.

‘Our experience at RHAP provides evidence that frontline health professionals are requesting advocacy training on a daily basis to deal with current challenges. Students need to learn how to advocate for their patients – in and outside of the clinical environment. Development of knowledge, skills and attitude around advocacy is also very important for future health advocates,’ said Khan-Gillmore.

Academic leader at UKZN’s Discipline of Occupational Therapy Ms Chantal Christopher shared a case study on how the Discipline had incorporated advocacy into the curriculum over the years and how the discipline had familiarised itself with the communities it serves by obtaining insight into local cultures and belief systems as these related to the community’s understanding of health and diseases.

‘Through our fourth year community-based module and our ongoing community projects in KwaDabeka, Clermont and Marianridge, we have been able to identify the health needs of individual patients. We have successfully identified opportunities for advocacy, particularly for poor and marginalised societies. We are concerned and act as advocates for patient/ client groups with particular health needs whilst incorporating ethical and human right principles,’ said Christopher.

Participants unanimously agreed there was a need for investment in capacity development for teachers to be able to incorporate health advocacy into the curriculum.

Khan-Gillmore shared a number of tips on how to promote health advocacy in teaching and learning. They include the following:

  1. Identifying good role models and lecturers who speak from experience
  2. Invite guest speakers from health advocacy groups and also practising clinicians
  3. Build networks with key organisations in the field of advocacy
  4. Work with community agencies that can help highlight issues in the community which inform advocacy needs
  5. Be explicit in what you want students to learn and have a rationale for why you are teaching advocacy
  6. Create clear links between what students already study and the knowledge, skills and attitudes essential to be a health advocate
  7. Create opportunities for dialogue and discussions.

Words: Lihlithemba Sosibo