Student doctors (umfundi wobugqirha): The role of student-run free clinics in medical education in Cape Town, South Africa

S C Mendelsohn


Background. Since 1943, the Students’ Health and Welfare Centres Organisation (SHAWCO) of the University of Cape Town has provided voluntary, student-run free clinics in under-served communities in Cape Town, South Africa, filling major gaps in the city’s healthcare services.

ObjectiveTo determine the role SHAWCO clinics play in medical education.

Methods. A mixed-methods study with a predominantly quantitative questionnaire utilising dichotomised Likert scales was performed with 110 clinic volunteers. The Likert scales were converted to population proportions for quantitative analysis. Qualitative data obtained from participants’ comments were analysed thematically.

Discussion. SHAWCO clinics provide a controlled environment in which to practise skills acquired in medical school. Over 98% of students attend clinics to increase their clinical exposure. Medical conditions that students encounter are primary care problems, often neglected at tertiary level teaching institutions. The clinics achieve what the formal curriculum struggles to do: humanise medical treatment, allowing one to better understand the socio-economic background of patients.

Conclusion. SHAWCO is best suited in its current role of hands-on, community-based learning to augment the training provided in the formal medical curriculum. 

Author's affiliations

S C Mendelsohn, Rob Ferreira Hospital, Nelspruit, South Africa

Full Text



Free clinic; Student-run clinic; Medical education; SHAWCO

Cite this article

African Journal of Health Professions Education 2014;6(1):28-32. DOI:10.7196/AJHPE.311

Article History

Date submitted: 2013-07-19
Date published: 2014-03-12

Article Views

Abstract views: 9719
Full text views: 12523

Comments on this article

*Read our policy for posting comments here