Advocacy: Are we teaching it?

B Gaede, P Pillay


Background. Health advocacy has been identified as a key outcome competency in the undergraduate curriculum for a number of health professions by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) and the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), Durban, SA. Despite health advocacy and activism playing a strong role in the student body and civil society, there has been only limited engagement with the manner in which to teach health advocacy in the health professions literature.

Objectives. To assess how the faculty in health professions programmes at UKZN understood health advocacy and how it was covered in the curriculum.

Methods. Focus group discussions were held with faculty from undergraduate health professions programmes at the university regarding how health advocacy was understood and how it was being integrated into the current curriculum. A thematic analysis was performed on the transcripts of the focus groups.

Results. A range of ways in which health advocacy was understood became apparent in the focus groups, with a few disciplines indicating that they do not cover health advocacy explicitly in the curriculum. Three main focus areas of health advocacy training were identified: for the profession (particularly in the smaller health professions groups); for services within the health system; and for patients or communities. The main points of departure for health advocacy were ethics and human rights and to a much lesser degree social justice. There was generally limited experience of how health advocacy could be taught as a skill and little consensus between the participating disciplines regarding the scope and content of health advocacy training. Advocacy itself was also seen as potentially risky, which could undermine the relationship between the university and the service platform. Similarly, the potential risk to whistle-blowers and the institutional culture in universities and public sector services were also seen as limitations.

Conclusions. Ample opportunities were identified for the potential teaching of health advocacy in complex professional and public sector interactions. Dual loyalty was seen to be a key dilemma for how to approach advocacy as part of work-based learning, and linked to considerable risk to the institution, educators and students. The current review offers an exciting opportunity to define more clearly what the outcome competencies of health advocacy are, particularly in the context of transformative health professions education – and how these can be operationalised in the overall curriculum.

Authors' affiliations

B Gaede, Department of Family Medicine, School of Nursing and Public Health, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

P Pillay, Rural Health Advocacy Project, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

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Advocacy; Undergraduate health professional education; Competencies; University of KwaZulu-Natal

Cite this article

African Journal of Health Professions Education 2019;11(2):63-67. DOI:10.7196/AJHPE.2019.v11i2.1042

Article History

Date submitted: 2019-06-28
Date published: 2019-06-28

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