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I Am UWC: Prof Jose Frantz

Prof Jose Frantz: SAAHE Distinguished Educator of the Year 2017 - On Preparing Future Generations

When the South African Association of Health Educationalists (SAAHE) met to decide on their Distinguished Health Educator of the Year 2017, they were looking for someone with very special qualities.

Someone with an outstanding track record as a researcher in both health professions education (HPE) and their own disciplinary field (over 100 peer-reviewed publications, book chapters and conference presentations in HPE and physiotherapy as a profession, say). Someone who’s widely recognized as an excellent mentor and supervisor of postgraduate students- maybe someone who successfully supervised 47 Master’s and PhD students, and is currently supervising another 19 postgraduate students. Someone who’s played a key role in exchanging ideas and promoting dialogue on a global scale - who’s hosted workshops and promoted research in physiotherapy and HPE at South African universities, African universities including Kenya, Sudan and Zimbabwe, international workshops in Norway and the US, perhaps.

And above all, they needed someone who believes in mentorship and capacity building, in working closely with health practitioners and HPEs and students to develop the next generation of top professionals. Maybe someone who’s been a mentor of the Sub-Saharan Faimer Institute (SAFRI) since its inception, who was last year honoured as the National Research Foundation’s Champion for  Research Capacity Development and Transformation at South African Higher Education Institutions, and whose students have gone on to achieve great success as researchers, professors, heads of department, and the like.

Someone, in other words, like the University of the Western Cape’s former Dean of Community and Health Sciences, and newly-appointed Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation, Prof Jose Frantz.

Here’s what the SAAHE Distinguished Educator of the Year for 2017 has to say about tackling the many challenges facing HPEs in South Africa…

Why do you think educating health professionals and capacity development is so important in a South African context?

Developing capacity in health professions education is essential, as we currently only have 169 medical schools in 40 Sub-Saharan countries that train medical and allied health professionals. To add to this, the issue of brain drain is real in the region where we lose our health professionals to better prospects in other countries. Thus to hold onto the health professional educators that we have, we need to capacitate them broader than being a clinician but provide them with skills that build them as leaders, researchers and academics.

What is your personal Health Professions Education philosophy?

I am a strong supporter of Boyers’ model of scholarship, which encourages an integrated approach to research, teaching, community integration and application - and thus my view is that knowledge is acquired through research and informs teaching and is applied and integrated into practice.

How do we better train future generations of students, academics and health professionals?

Besides helping young academics obtain higher degrees,we should try to help them take the academic journey further in terms of publication, promotion and rating. That way, they can make a meaningful contribution to the research landscape - and perhaps help others to do the same as well. I would like to advocate for a move from capacity building to capability building.

What do you see as the chief challenges facing Health Professions Education in South Africa?

One challenge for me that faces health professions education is the strong focus on developing the 21st century graduate with educators that have not embraced the 21st century student. Thus the challenge is how we build capacity and capability amongst the health professional educators who continue to teach as they have been taught.

How can higher education institutions like UWC help address these challenges more effectively?

Higher education institutions are strategically positioned to guide and enhance capacity and capability development amongst health professional educators. UWC can play a major role in contributing to capacity and capability building initiatives as we have a population of students and staff who represent our society and can thus adapt our curricula to meet the needs of our society as we better understand it.  It thus also becomes important that activities aimed at building capacity are not once-off activities that only aim to improve knowledge and skills, but should be a process that would encourage behaviour change - and thus the shift from capacity building to capability development. There is expertise within the University that can accomplish great things. We just need to identify common interests and work together where appropriate, driven by a bigger vision to change the lives of individuals and of society.

As Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation, how will your new role impact HPE?

In my role as DVC: Research and Innovation, I feel it is important to recognize that empowering and capacitating educators requires an approach that is empowering and is supported by an enabling environment. Thus it is my responsibility to provide a range of support mechanisms that enable educators to develop holistically. This can not happen in the absence of collaboration between teaching and learning and research - linking cutting-edge research to innovative education empowers not only the educator, but also the students. The most rewarding part of my career has been to see others thrive and succeed - and I hope to be able to do that in an even more significant way now.  It’s about authentic leadership in action.

What is authentic leadership?

It’s about integrity, authenticity and leading by example. This is the ground we stand on, and we can’t be afraid to get our hands dirty. We have to be role models for the students, researchers and educators to come. We have to put our money where our mouths are, and demonstrate that we really believe in our vision. If people see that, they will believe as well - and they will give of themselves.