Vocation-specific isiZulu language teaching and learning for medical students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Matthews, Margaret Glynnis.
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Being an effective communicator is a core competency required of all health care practitioners. Some undergraduate medical students at the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine (NRMSM), University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, are unable to communicate in isiZulu, the mother tongue of nearly 80% of the 10.2 million people in the province, and the most common home language spoken in South Africa. A one-year isiZulu course to teach communicative competence in the language, and assessed in the first three years of the 6-year MBChB programme, is currently offered at the first year level to medical students. This study was conducted in 2012 to assess how isiZulu clinical communication was perceived by a third year cohort of medical students, and whether current teaching in the period 2010-2012 had prepared them to communicate with their patients. An observational, cross-sectional study design was used to assess the knowledge, attitude and practice of the study group through a self-completed questionnaire. Their knowledge of isiZulu was assessed in a written test, and the students’ marks were compared with their marks in 2010. Oral competence was assessed in an isiZulu history-taking station in the objective structured clinical examination. Students’ comments on their experiences and their recommendations were recorded. Ethics approval was obtained to conduct the study, and informed consent was obtained from participants. Medical students’ competence in isiZulu had improved. They were largely positive about learning the language of their patients but seldom used the language in the clinical setting. Many students indicated that the current teaching of isiZulu in the programme was inadequate for their needs. Although isiZulu is taught to non-isiZulu students, this does not convert into an ability to use the language in the clinical setting. In order for medical students to acquire a satisfactory and safe level of communicative competence in isiZulu, and in line with the UKZN Language Plan to emphasize language training specific to various vocational groups, it is recommended that the teaching, learning and assessment of isiZulu language and culture be integrated into all levels of the undergraduate medical programme in the form of vocation-specific isiZulu for medical students.
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