Short Report - Special Collection: Innovative educational methods for FM training in Africa

IDEAL: Maintaining PHC-focused training in a MBChB programme through a COVID-induced innovation

Ian Couper, Julia Blitz, Therese Fish
African Journal of Primary Health Care & Family Medicine | Vol 16, No 1 | a4389 | DOI: | © 2024 Ian Couper, Julia Blitz, Therese Fish | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 01 November 2023 | Published: 11 March 2024

About the author(s)

Ian Couper, Ukwanda Centre for Rural Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa
Julia Blitz, Centre for Health Professions Education, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa
Therese Fish, Department of Clinical Services and Social Impact, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa


Responding to the need for authentic clinical training for students in the context of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the Stellenbosch University Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences developed an innovative 12-week longitudinal, integrated rotation for pre-final-year medical students, the Integrated Distributed Engagement to Advance Learning (IDEAL) rotation. This saw 252 students being placed across 30 primary and secondary healthcare facilities in the Western and Northern Cape provinces. With a focus on service learning, the rotation was built on experiences and research of members of the planning team, as well as partnership relationships developed over an extended period. The focus of student learning was on clinical reasoning through being exposed to undifferentiated patient encounters and the development of practical clinical skills. Students on the distributed platform were supported by clinicians on site, alongside whom they worked, and by a set of online supports, in the form of resources placed on the learning management systems, learning facilitators to whom patient studies were submitted and wellness supporters. Important innovations of the rotation included extensive distribution of clinical training, responsiveness to health service need, co-creation of the module with students, the roles of learning facilitators and wellness supporters, the use of mobile apps and the integration of previously siloed learning outcomes. The IDEAL rotation was seen to be so beneficial as a learning experience that it has been incorporated into the medical degree on an ongoing basis.

Contribution: Longitudinal exposure of students to undifferentiated patients in a primary health care context allows for integrated, self-regulated learning. This provides excellent opportunities for medical students, with support, to develop both clinical reasoning and practical skills.


medical education; learning; undergraduate; PHC; innovation; curriculum; co-creation; COVID-19.

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 3: Good health and well-being


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