Teaching Biopsychosocial Competence and the Principles of the Primary Health Care (PHC) at the Patient’s Bedside.

Lauraine MH Vivian, Sean McLaughlin, Charles R Swanepoel, Vanessa C Burch


The importance of behavioural and social determinants in health were recognized long ago; yet we still grapple with the challenges of developing appropriate teaching pedagogies to bring these principles into routine clinical practice. A teaching pedagogy blending the biopsychosocial approach and the principles of primary health care (PHC), as expressed in the Alma-Ata declaration of 1978, is lacking in the literature.
In 1994 the University of Cape Town (UCT), South Africa, adopted a PHC-based approach to health sciences education to equip its graduates with the necessary knowledge, skills and attributes required to meet the challenges of providing health care in a country with vast socio-political inequalities. This paper describes an educational pedagogy which weaves these principles into clinical practice in an undergraduate medical clerkship. The methodology uses real patient encounters linked to an interactive seminar and a portfolio of case studies.
Students described the teaching pedagogy as interesting and informative. They recognized the importance of holistic, patient-centred care based on a biopsychosocial approach and the importance of the PHC principles. Barriers to implementing this approach were also highlighted. The pedagogy, in use for four years, is being adopted by another department indicating the sustainability and success of the course.

Authors' affiliations

Lauraine MH Vivian, University of Cape Town

Sean McLaughlin, SANBI, University of the Western Cape

Charles R Swanepoel, University of Cape Town

Vanessa C Burch, University of Cape Town

Full Text

PDF (408KB)


Medical Anthropology, Clinical Teaching

Cite this article

African Journal of Health Professions Education 2010;2(2):23.

Article History

Date submitted: 2010-07-16
Date published: 2010-12-13

Article Views

Abstract views: 6400
Full text views: 2981

Comments on this article

*Read our policy for posting comments here