Original Research

The value of the WIRHE Scholarship Programme in training health professionals for rural areas: Views of participants

Nontsikelelo O. Mapukata, Ian Couper, Jocelyn Smith
African Journal of Primary Health Care & Family Medicine | Vol 9, No 1 | a1488 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/phcfm.v9i1.1488 | © 2017 Nontsikelelo O. Mapukata, Ian Couper, Jocelyn Smith | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 01 May 2017 | Published: 13 October 2017

About the author(s)

Nontsikelelo O. Mapukata, Centre for Rural Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
Ian Couper, Ukwanda Centre for Rural Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
Jocelyn Smith, Centre for Rural Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa


Introduction: Rural hospitals in South Africa, as elsewhere, face enduring shortages of, and challenges in attracting and retaining, suitably qualified staff. The Wits Initiative for Rural Health Education (WIRHE), based at the University of the Witwatersrand but covering three universities, is a rural scholarship programme established to find local solutions to these challenges in the North West and Mpumalanga provinces. The purpose of this evaluation was to ascertain whether the WIRHE project was achieving its objectives.
Methods: This article draws from an evaluation commissioned by the Swiss-South African Cooperative Initiative, a major funder of the programme when WIRHE was launched in 2003. Qualitative interviews were conducted either as face-to-face meetings or telephonically with 21 WIRHE students and graduates. Content analysis was undertaken to identify common themes.
Results: There was a consistency in the findings as the students and graduates reported similar experiences. Many of the participants were overwhelmed by their initial challenges of having to adapt to a different language, an institutional culture and resources that they previously did not have access to. The participants acknowledged the role of WIRHE staff in facilitating the transition from home to university and, in particular, the value of the financial and academic support. The geographic distance to Wits presented a challenge for the Pretoria- and Sefako Makgatho-based students. The holiday work affirmed clinical advantages for WIRHE students and heightened students’ interest in becoming healthcare workers.
Conclusion: WIRHE’s key success factors are the financial, academic and emotional support offered to students. WIRHE achieved its objectives based on a principled strategic approach and an understanding that students from rural backgrounds are more likely to return to rural areas. The study supports the value of structured support programmes for students of rural origin as they pursue their studies.


students; rural origin; scholarship; success factors; health professionals


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