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Stanford University School of Medicine

Working to bring online medical education to South Africa

Stanford lecturer Maya Adam, MD, has a long connection with South Africa. Her mother is South African, and Adam grew up both there and in Canada. Now, she's leading an effort to bring health-care training to the brigade of local community health workers who go door-to-door to provide health care throughout the country of South Africa.

"These workers are mostly women who have been basically looking after their neighbors over the past 50 years," Adam told me. While they work diligently on the front lines, they have little education or health-care training.

"These women are quite remarkable," she continued. "Had they been born in Palo Alto, they would be trained at Stanford's medical school. Instead, they are often semi-literate with a fourth-grade education and getting their training out of a 400-page text-heavy manual."

"Imagine if we could transfer this manual into picture-based learning on teaching tablets [containing] short videos translating the materials from that text."

That is exactly what Stanford's DigitalMEdIC has already begun to do. The initiative's goal is to have a comprehensive library of medical-education and health videos, something like the Khan Academy, to be used to help train South African health-care workers, as well as others around the world.

Last week, health-care leaders from South Africa — including Nomafrench Mbombo, PhD, minister of health of the Western Cape, and deans of two of the largest medical schools — visited Stanford as part of a health-care summit to discuss future collaboration on this new vision. (This video provides a taste of what transpired.)

"There was a lot of excitement from coming together," Adam said. "We're building a trust with them. We talked about the challenges that many of these students face. They want education that is more relevant to the South Africa of today than to England of the 1900s, which is what they get now."

Adam will travel to South Africa next month to spend a year helping set up an educational tech support hub and bring South African faculty together to conduct development workshops to launch the new project.

"This is a great time for this approach," Adam said. "South Africa wants to scale up their medical training. Online training can improve both quality and efficiency."

Previously: Stanford launches short online course to boost understanding of transgender kids, Telling patient stories to teach new medical students,Using the flipped classroom model to bring medical education into the 21st century and Stanford initiative aims to simultaneously improve education and maternal-child health in South Africa
Photo of Nomafrench Mbombo and Maya Adam by Carlos Sanchez

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