Rural patients often bear the brunt of a vicious cycle. Their local health systems need more resources and healthcare workers with inside knowledge to speak out about health care failures; but the shortages of health care workers make them feel vulnerable to speak out. Whilst healthcare workers can be agents of change, many lack the motivation, knowledge, confidence and/or skills to navigate and problem solve specific challenges within the health system. The above scenario illustrates that there is a fundamental problem not only in the way healthcare workers are distributed but also in the manner in which they are selected and educated.
This manual seeks to support health sciences curriculum developers and educators with the integration of advocacy in the health sciences curriculum. It provides a working definition for health advocacy and explores strategies and opportunities for integrating advocacy into the health sciences curricula. The manual proposes some entry points into the curriculum and identifies possible core competencies for a health advocate. Recognising that one of the challenges to teaching advocacy is the absence of clear parameters for evaluation of the competency, critical knowledge and skills of health advocates are proposed.
With foreword by Professor Lionel Green-Thompson, Assistant Dean: Teaching and Learning, Wits University:
Health care for the twenty first century requires graduates who are more than the sum of their accumulated factual knowledge. It requires a cadre of health professionals able to engage with the complexity of their work and the development of a sense of advocacy is a key requisite for this.
This advocacy manual aims to provide educators with some useful and practical tips on incorporating advocacy into the health sciences curriculum. Credit is due in many places where this work is already developed. However, there are many lessons to be learnt and many skills to be developed in the realm of advocacy and this manual provides that foundation for this to take place.
We all need to empower new graduates to take up the many challenges presented in the South African health system in constructive ways as advocates of the patients they serve. This manual provides a good foundation from which the educator can reflect and debate with students on how to best approach some of the obstacles to effective patient care.
The current status quo of students being clinically competent but lacking the necessary skills to conduct health advocacy does not augur well in an environment that requires these skills and competencies on a daily basis. The manual provides the framework for inclusion into a curriculum and thus ensuring that students do not only hear about patient rights advocacy after graduation, but that they have a sense of how to tackle issues whilst a student.
What South Africa requires at present are a formidable, confident, advocacy-skilled cadre of health care workers that are able to be great defenders and promoters of patient rights advocacy.
This manual hopes to empower the educators of the new generation of health professionals in the belief that teachers of change will deliver the much needed change agents into our environment. The following students’ response in 2014 to the age old question of why advocacy should be learnt will encourage the work of this manual:
“Our compassion for patients drives our passionate advocacy efforts. Advancing equitable access is why. Promoting healthier community is why. Empowering vulnerable population is why. Our patients are why. Where we can join our voice with those in the shadows, there is nowhere else we would rather be.”
Nina Nguyen and Yan Xu