Medical physiology education in South Africa: what are the educators’ perspectives?

Mark Andrew Tufts, Susan Brenda Higgins-Opitz


Context. Most South African medical schools have, in the past decade, introduced changes in their curricula. In our experience we have found that such changes can affect students’ knowledge and understanding of physiology.

Aim. The current study was undertaken to determine the perceptions of educators regarding the impact of curricular change on the knowledge and understanding of physiology by medical students in South Africa. Methods. A survey of physiologists teaching medical students in South African medical schools was undertaken by means of a questionnaire.

Results. There were 20 participants in the current study. Demographic data revealed that they came from 6 out the 8 South African medical schools; 80% had PhDs; 70% had been teaching physiology for more than 10 years and that a similar percentage (80%) were experienced in teaching three or more physiological systems. In addition, 20% of the current participants had additional educational qualifications. In the opinion of the physiologist educators surveyed, 60% felt that although current medical students found it more difficult to understand basic physiology concepts and that, compared with students 5 - 10 years ago, their knowledge of physiology was more limited, the students nevertheless were better able to integrate their physiology knowledge with clinical subject knowledge. The respondents were divided as to whether or not current medical students found it more difficult to understand pathophysiology than those students 5 - 10 years ago. In addition, nearly 60% of the staff surveyed were concerned that physiology, as a cognate discipline in South Africa, was under threat due to medical curricular change.

Discussion and conclusion. The results of the survey provide a snapshot of the current state of medical students’ knowledge and understanding of physiology in South Africa from the educators’ perspective. It would be interesting to know whether the concerns raised by the participants reflect an international trend. Physiologists and curriculum planners/organisers need to take cognizance of the issues highlighted in the current study.

Authors' affiliations

Mark Andrew Tufts, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Susan Brenda Higgins-Opitz, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Full Text



physiology educators' perceptions; physiology learning; medical students; physiology teaching; curriculum change

Cite this article

African Journal of Health Professions Education 2012;4(1):15-21.

Article History

Date submitted: 2011-11-17
Date published: 2012-07-11

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