The apartheid ideology in South Africa had a pervasive influence on all levels of education including medical undergraduate training. The role of the health sector in human rights abuses during the apartheid era was highlighted in 1997 during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings. The Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) subsequently realised the importance of medical ethics education and encouraged the introduction of such teaching in all medical schools in the country. Curricular reform at the University of Stellenbosch in 1999 presented an unparalleled opportunity to formally introduce ethics teaching to undergraduate students. This paper outlines the introduction of a medical ethics programme at the Faculty of Health Sciences from 2003 to 2006, with special emphasis on the challenges encountered. It remains one of the most comprehensive undergraduate medical ethics programmes in South Africa. However, there is scope for expanding the curricular time allocated to medical ethics. Integrating the curriculum both horizontally and vertically is imperative. Implementing a core curriculum for all medical schools in South Africa would significantly enhance the goals of medical education in the country.
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Competing interests: None declared.
Professor Moodley is a family physician who currently heads the Tygerberg division of the Bioethics Unit, Centre for Applied Ethics & Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa. She has been teaching medical ethics to undergraduate students since 1997 and to postgraduate students since 1999.
- Health Professions Council of South Africa