Clinical associate students feel they are pioneers in a programme that will be the future of healthcare field.

Clinical associates are mid-level healthcare providers who work under the supervision of doctors in a wide range of medical services, primarily at district hospitals. “Clinical associates are the future. I’m not a doctor, not a nurse. I’m somewhere in between,” says first year clinical associate student, Martene Esteves.

The Clinical Associates Programme, which was launched at Wits Medical Campus in 2009, already has over a hundred students. The programme was created as a response to the low doctor-to-population ratio in South Africa.

The course runs for three years and has a strong focus on practical learning. Esteves says the course integrates skill and theory to give students working experience.

Another student, Samantha Ncube explains that nurses and doctors are restricted to the field of their specialisation, which is very limited. However, clinical associates do “something in-between and beyond.”

Chairman of the soon to be formed Clinical Associates Programme Society, Abram Tabane feels people do not understand this new field and often claim they are “half doctors”.

Ncube agrees: “The stereotype of it being an easy course should fall away. People underestimate what we can do.”

All three students described the course as challenging, exciting and intense. “I’m very proud of wearing my scrub,” says Esteves. They say it’s a promising field, and the number of applicants has been growing every year.

The students also feel the profession offers good job opportunities. Ncube says the majority of final year students have job offers. “It’s guaranteed a job.”

The clinical associates’ programmes throughout the country are offered in partnership with the South Africa Military Health Service (SAMHS) and departments of health.

The first class of clinical associates for Wits will graduate end of this year.