Addressing failures, mental health and wellness of students, among motivations for the changes.

The faculty of health sciences will be implementing changes to the Graduate Entry Medical Programme (GEMP) curriculum for fifth-year students in 2020 to address the assessment burden for staff and students and student wellness.

GEMP is a programme that allows graduate students to get into medicine at third-year level if they meet certain minimum requirements stipulated by the faculty. This gives students the opportunity to complete their undergraduate medical studies in a period of four years.

According to Dr Mantoa Mokhachane, a senior lecturer and the director of the Unit for Undergraduate Medical Education (UUME), the changes aim to address the assessment burden for staff and students, student mental health, student failures by April, internship placements, and the disconnect between GEMP 1 and 2 (third and fourth-year) and between GEMP 3 and 4 (fifth and sixth-year).

The proposed change will remove end-of-term assessments for each rotation and introduce an end-of-year exam inclusive of four theory papers instead of seven, which will have a 40% weighting. The examinations will be administered by UUME. A six-week remedial block will also be instituted. If a student has failed a single unit (for example, paediatrics, internal medicine or surgery), they will have three attempts to improve in that unit.

The current GEMP 3 curriculum consists of seven clinical rotations with one theory class running concurrently. End-of-term assessments are written for each rotation and administered by the relevant department within the faculty. Six end-of-year exams are also written based on theory with a total weighting of 60%.

Peter Carides, a fifth-year student said the biggest concern he has with the curriculum is “the disconnect between the theory years (GEMP 1 and 2) and the practical years (GEMP 3 and 4)”.

“Going from four years of study in a purely academic environment into fifth-year was a massive culture shock. The teaching does not prepare us adequately. I am not saying this as a criticism of the quality of teaching we received, but of our own mindsets as studying to pass an exam does not teach us to apply information practically,” he said.

Mokhachane said, “We are not changing the curriculum in terms of content or learning outcomes or core competencies; we are improving the assessments and decreasing the load of assessments.”

Students, however, have a different understanding. “It seems that the changes have been made solely to make assessment easier for UUME to the detriment of the students, and at the same time compromise their learning by doubling the workload they need to study,” Carides told Wits Vuvuzela.

A fourth-year student, Zakariyya Kaka, said, “The changes made are positive, however, it is unfair that these changes are made in any case. From talking to fifth and sixth-year students who have looked at the proposed changes and from their personal experience, it looks a lot harder to pass.”

According to Mokhachane, “Medical curricula have to be reviewed and updated regularly in order to meet the needs of the communities that will be served and to keep up with development in technology.”

FEATURED IMAGE: Changes will be introduced to the GEMP 3 and 4 curricula for fifth-year medical students in 2020. Photo: Lwazi Maseko