Teaching communication as a core competency in health professions education: An exploratory case study in a college of health sciences, South Africa

M Matthews, T Naidu


Background. Competency-based and interprofessional education are increasingly favoured approaches for training health professionals (HPs) to meet patient and population needs. The Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) and College of Health Sciences (CHS) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, SA, specified a requirement for a core competencies framework to be incorporated into all HP programmes in 2014.

Objectives. To explore teaching, learning and assessment of communication as a core competency in eight HP programmes in the CHS to determine how communication was taught and whether the competencies framework had been adopted successfully. The study is important, as there has been limited research on the teaching of communication as a competency in HP education in SA.

Methods. The case study comprised educational qualitative research. The CHS document was reviewed and purposive sampling was used to select educators from the programmes. Focus group discussions were conducted in July and August 2015 with 5 - 9 participants per group. Data were analysed thematically and themes and subthemes described. Gatekeeper and ethical permissions were obtained.

Results. Aspects of communication were taught in all programmes. None of the programmes had fully incorporated the CHS framework. The medicine programme had incorporated aspects of the framework in teaching, although it did not reflect consistently in all disciplines. Teaching was largely profession or discipline specific. Important challenges were language barriers and interprofessional communication.

Conclusions. While the consistent use of the CHS core competencies framework may contribute to improving the teaching of communication in the HP programmes, the success of a competency-based approach depends on responsiveness to context. Research in local settings is recommended to identify and align competencies and content with patient and community needs.

Authors' affiliations

M Matthews, Clinical and Professional Practice, School of Clinical Medicine, College of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

T Naidu, Department of Behavioural Medicine, School of Nursing and Public Health, College of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

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Health communication; Core competencies; Competency-based education; CanMEDS; Health professions education; South Africa

Cite this article

African Journal of Health Professions Education 2019;11(4):133-138. DOI:10.7196/AJHPE.2019.v11i4.1098

Article History

Date submitted: 2019-12-12
Date published: 2019-12-12

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