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Exploring the impact of experience-based medical learning on students' clinical preparedness : a case study of the South African-Cuban medical training collaboration programme at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

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Background: The South-African-Cuban Medical Collaboration (SACMC) programme involves medical training being offered to rural South African (SA) origin students in Cuban facilities with the view of future medical practice in local rural SA settings. The students on the SACMC programme return to South African medical schools to complete their training and clinical practice in their 4th academic year. The students experience difficulty in adapting to local clinical demands and integrating their prior knowledge as required at the Nelson R Mandela, School of Medicine, (NRMSM) of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in Durban, South Africa as evidenced from examination board minutes. Aim: In an effort to inform educators of the extent to which students’ prior clinical training and experiences in Cuba matched the clinical skills taught at the NRMSM, this study investigated the similarity or difference in approach to the curriculum, clinical skills content and perceived competence of the SACMC students to a set of 75 core clinical skills which are deemed essential during training in years 1-3 at the institution. Methods: A mixed methodology study used a phenomenological approach to explore the clinical experiences of 11 South-African-Cuban medical collaboration students. Qualitative data collected by means of interviews and a questionnaire were used to determine the curriculum approach and content. A questionnaire generated quantitative data about students’ familiarity; exposure and perceived competence (ability to perform independently, with supervision or not at all) on 75 specific skills which are considered a prerequisite to enter the 4th academic year at the NRMSM. The skills in 9 major categories, included communication, resuscitation, adult examination, new-born examination, general procedural skills, specimen collection, obstetrics and gynaecology procedures, airway management procedures and radiological examination. Findings: The didactic, lecture intensive Cuban curriculum with its emphasis on primary health care principles and predominance of ward-based clinical training was found to be vastly different from the problem-based, systematic and practical oriented laboratory-based clinical training offered to local students. The majority of students self-reported a lack of exposure to 35 of the overall 75 identified skills. Most students claimed an inability to independently perform 95% (4 out of 75 skills- able to perform 5%) of clinical skills. The qualitative data revealed that many primary health care skills were neither taught nor practiced by students within the first 5 years of training in Cuba. Conclusion: This study has highlighted the mismatch between the focus and scope of clinical training offered to students on the South African-Cuban Medical Collaboration programme and those at the NRMSM. In the light of continued collaboration in health education and to ensure that returning students are adequately supported and integrated into the SA clinical setting, it is important that educators work towards improving the alignment of the training programs.


M. Med. Sc. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban 2014.


University of KwaZulu-Natal. Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine--Tuition., Medicine--Study and teaching., Medical education--Cuba., Medical education--South Africa--KwaZulu-Natal., Medical students--South Africa--KwaZulu-Natal., Theses--Clinical medicine.