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Feature Article of Sunday, 9 December 2012

Columnist: Sodzi-Tettey, Sodzi

New Paradigm in Medical Education & Training

UHAS: New Paradigm in Medical Education & Training

New beginnings are always auspicious times, where we make our plans, we chart our course, we work hard and we hope for the best. We are very privileged to have the opportunity to learn from the experiences of other universities that have come before us. We have dreamt big and the task ahead is quite enormous. However, with the remarkable team of students, faculty and staff that we have assembled, and with the support of the Council and the Government and the communities, and, above all, with the Almighty God on our side, that dream will soon be a reality

Prof. Fred Newton Binka, Vice Chancellor, University of Health & Allied Sciences. November, 2012.

On November 16, 2012, the University Of Health & Allied Sciences (UHAS) held a three-in-one function described by Prof Kofi Anyidoho, Interim Council Chairman, as the out-dooring of a special baby of privilege and promise holding the key to the dreams of countless generations of young people of this country. The functions—matriculation of 155 foundation students, swearing- in of the first Vice Chancellor and Pro Vice Chancellor and formal inauguration of the University were held under the auspices of His Excellency the Vice President Paa Kwesi Amissah-Arthur.

The day climaxed an envisioning process involving Ghana’s late former President John Mills for the establishment of twin Universities—a modern university with specific practical multidisciplinary training opportunities in the health and allied sciences (Volta Region) and a university of Energy and Renewable Natural Resources (Brong Ahafo). In January 2012, President Mills established a 25 member National Task Force Planning Committee with Dr. Christina Amoakoh-Nuama, of the Office of the President as Convener and Prof. Samuel Kofi Sefa-Dedeh, Dean Faculty of Engineering Sciences, University of Ghana as its Chairman. In December 2010, the Planning Committee issued its first final report on “General Recommendations and Common Issues”, followed exactly a year later by a second volume in two editions on student regulations and academic programmes. The planning committee established a comprehensive blue print for the university complete with draft legislative instruments to achieve the following aims: (1) To provide higher education through teaching and research to all persons suitably qualified and capable of benefiting from such education. (2) To run courses in Health and Allied health sciences relevant to the health needs of the people of Ghana. (3) To adopt teaching and learning methods that are practically-oriented, technology-driven and community-based. (4) To disseminate knowledge and carry out research that responds to the health needs and aspirations of the people of Ghana and beyond.

The Planning Committee handed over to an Implementation Committee under the Chairmanship of Dr Christina Amoakoh-Nuama to tackle the preparatory work prior to the establishment of the Interim University Council in February 2012. The Interim Council had the mandate, inter alia, to ensure a successful take off of the University in 2012 academic year.

UHAS will eventually host eight schools and three institutes: the Schools of Basic and Biomedical Sciences, Nursing and Midwifery, Medicine, Dentistry and the Graduate School of Sports and Exercise Medicine (located in Ho) while the Schools of Pharmacy, Public Health and Allied Health, and the Institute of Traditional and Alternative Medicine, the Institute of Health Research, and the Institute of Medical Education are to be located in Hohoe. On October, 2012, classes officially began for 155 foundation students from five out of the eight schools. According to UHAS’s Vice Chancellor, Prof Fred Binka, “These students include19admissions into the Physician Assistant training programme (Clinical and Anesthesia), 60 into the Nursing and Midwifery programmes, 30 into Allied Health (Dietetics 8, Medical laboratory Practice 22) and 46 into the Public Health programme (Nutrition 15, Disease Control 13, Environmental Health 12 Health Information 6). All the students are currently taking courses at the School of Basic and Biomedical Sciences. Courses are being taught in a number of temporary facilities attached to the Regional Hospital and the Nursing Training College in Ho.”

UHAS is counting on these foundation students to set the pace in abiding by the University’s honor code. This honor code aspires to create the kind of environment in which students may be trained and graduated showing leadership with integrity. This is in addition to maintaining the highest standards in academic work— “including not giving or receiving any aid in exams, not receiving unpermitted aid in class work, preparation of reports or in any other work, doing one’s fair share and assisting others to abide by the honor code.” In his matriculation speech, Eric Tetteh Ayertey, newly elected President of the Student’s Representative Council (SRC), in addition to copious appreciation of free lunch coupons provided by the University, promised “to eschew all forms of indiscipline and insubordination” while “counting on the co-operation and assistance of the University management in solving the problems that confront students on the campus.”

Core values and institutional philosophy

UHAS aspires to provide a more broad based education to which all students are required to take University General Education Courses like Quantitative literacy, Academic writing, Communication skills and report writing, Analytical reading and reasoning, Science, Technology and Society, Ghanaian and African Studies and Information literacy.

Second is the desire to position itself as a technologically driven institution. The Interim Council is still strategizing how to ensure that “the initial infrastructure for the establishment of UHAS should include substantial investments to ensure that all staff and students will have unhindered information accessibility via a stable and robust networking and computing infrastructure as appropriate to each individual or local unit of the university.” Ghana’s Ministry of Environment and Science together with the Ministry of Education may explore how UHAS students may also benefit from the current distribution of government laptops.

The Vice Chancellor is certainly looking beyond laptops as management ponders the creation of ICT-linked University sites (irrespective of location in the region), as one seamless virtual unit bound. Quite unconsciously, Prof Binka mutters to himself, “I don’t want to start with paper at all. Once you start with paper, it is so difficult to go back!” Additionally, modular teaching methods and leveraging teleconferencing/telemedicine applications by off-site lecturers are all being seriously considered.

UHAS apparently has a strategy to escape a devious phenomenon that has bedeviled all Ghanaian Medical Schools and their Teaching Hospitals. The assumption that siting a Teaching Hospital in a region will automatically result in equitable distribution of doctors in every district has not been borne out by the realities. While the Tamale Teaching Hospital recently boasts of over 100 doctors, the remaining 22 districts served by the Ghana Health Service collectively have less than 25 physicians with some districts not having a single doctor! It appears the health system has become rather compartmentalized and disconnected such that resources available to one component of the system are hardly being harnessed to complement other parts.

UHAS’s strategy is to place specialists in identified and upgraded Volta Regional district hospitals to provide the requisite training. Medical students and other health professionals would then go into these district hospitals for specific rotations. UHAS hopes to also make research a very fundamental part of the training in order to remain globally competitive. Recruitment of additional lecturers is currently underway to complement the existing part timers with UHAS targeting Ghanaian lecturers in the diaspora, potential young lecturers to develop and some retired lecturers. Interested lecturers including those in the diaspora may actively contact the school through info@uhas.edu.gh

Challenges

While the University has some temporal facilities for its foundation students, UHAS does not appear poised to confront an anticipated explosion in student, staff and faculty population in 2013. Plans are currently afoot to expand and build existing teaching and learning facilities. Designs for permanent facilities for the Ho main campus are complete with contracts assigned. The Vice Chancellor’s hope that “the Chinese contractors would have already started the construction…” seem to have been dashed given his appeal to government to “put some pressure on our Chinese collaborators to relocate the contractors to the construction sites and start building these facilities.”

Inadequate student and staff accommodation is to be tackled through public-private partnerships where UHAS plans to engage the private sector to build, run and operate housing facilities. Over the next five years, the University hopes to be able to accommodate 10, 000 students.

The future

Three key things are expected to happen within the next five years: establishment of all the eight schools, upgrading of the Volta Regional Hospital into a full-fledged Teaching Hospital and a finalization of the process of absorbing the training institutions of the Ministry of Health in the region into the University. Indeed UHAS plans to expand beyond Ho and Hohoe to other campuses in the north and south of the Volta Region through the support of the Government, faculty and staff and the communities. Further, the school is calling on government, corporate Ghana and individuals to contribute to the establishment of a 500 million Ghana Cedi (GH¢) Endowment Fund that would spur physical development.

Sodzi Sodzi-Tettey

www.sodzisodzi.com sodzi_tettey@hotmail.com 27th November, 2012

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