South Africa: Health Sciences' Deputy Dean Dream Team

The deanery of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Cape Town (UCT) is growing into a cohesive unit that is committed to serving the faculty in the spirit of social accountability.

Associate Professor Lionel Green-Thompson, the dean of the faculty, leads a diverse team that celebrates both long service and new blood, all united in building a faculty of excellence and transformation.

The leadership team consists of the dean, four deputy deans (health sciences, undergraduate education, research, and postgraduate education) and the director of faculty operations - a recently created position that has been filled by Nave Naidoo. They are all ably supported by Human Resources, Finance and Academic Administration.

Amplifying the work of students and staff

One of the more recent appointments to the deanery is Dr Tracey Naledi, the deputy dean of health sciences. She joined the faculty ahead of the national lockdown and hopes to contribute to transformation through big ideas and by amplifying the work of students and staff.

Dr Naledi is a UCT alumnus and is currently enrolled as a PhD candidate in the faculty. She brings to her position over 20 years' experience in government and NGO sectors.

Naledi has personal experience of the need for continued transformation in the faculty. As a medical student in the early 1990s, she found the university to be an alienating space where she sometimes doubted herself and her abilities. The curriculum and lack of black lecturers made her feel that she didn't belong or was inferior.

One of her commitments to students and staff is that, under her watch, they should not experience the faculty in the same way she did.

"We don't want to train people and make them unlearn who they are. When students come to UCT, they must come out of UCT not having been stripped of their culture and beliefs," she said.

"They must come out of UCT ... stronger, having understood who they are while learning about other cultures ... making them better and more complex."

Work under way

Dr Kerrin Begg is also a UCT alumnus and another recent appointment. She graduated in 1994 as part of the first class in the new democracy. More than 20 years later, and after gaining a wealth of experience in the private, public, parastatal and civic sectors, she is now the deputy dean for undergraduate education.

Dr Begg will focus on numerous deliverables during her tenure, including producing undergraduates who are self-directed, independent and responsive to the needs of the healthcare system and communities. She wants to ensure curriculum design and delivery that is "relevant to our country, our community, our health system" while also conducting a deeper review of the curriculum.

"We must understand the biases and prejudices that are inherent in our curriculum, in the way that we deliver it, so that we actively work towards diversity, inclusion and transformation," said Begg.

Also on her to-do list is measuring delivery on principles of equity, social justice, integrated interprofessional multidisciplinary care, and a primary healthcare-centred approach. She's determined to help educators to grow and thrive, and to mitigate exhaustion and prevent burnout.

Nurturing talent

Another new name in the deanery team - and one that is synonymous with transformation at UCT - is Professor Elelwani Ramugondo, who has been appointed as deputy dean for postgraduate education.

Like Naledi and Begg, Professor Ramugondo is also a UCT alumnus and brings to her position the experience of having gone through the system herself.

During her term of office, Ramugondo hopes that "we can rise up [and] be able to nurture the high level of talent we can attract to the faculty, and see people thrive - both staff and students".

Work already under way includes conscientisation on systemic issues, including racism and sexism, through peer-to-peer dialogue; identifying generic postgraduate training needs that can be met outside of the supervisor-student relationship; following best-practice approaches to train clinical specialists; clear processes and procedures to address grievances; as well as progressive automation for postgraduate administrative processes to enable tracking of student progress.

"Another challenge we face is the low participation of black South African students, particularly coloured and African students, in our postgraduate programmes compared with white South African and international students," said Ramugondo.

Engaging community

The final member of the deanery team is Professor Ambroise Wonkam, who has held his position as the deputy dean of research since 2018.

In his portfolio, the focus is on enhancing research performance in thematic priority disease areas: infection, neuroscience and mental health, chronic lifestyle diseases, cancer and other African-specific disease burdens.

"As the [top] research university on the continent, we need to have a very strong focus not only for South Africa but also for the African continent," said Professor Wonkam.

Additional focus areas and sub-categories include HIV/AIDS, refining primary healthcare services, post-traumatic stress disorder, the genetic determinants of disease, and engagement with the community "in every single thing that we do in research".

During his time in office, Wonkam has been overseeing the implementation of programmatic research grants; building human capital with specific attention on the transformation of the science cohort; enhancing strategic grouping through research themes; and creating an enabling platform for and fostering Afropolitanism.

There have been numerous challenges along the way, most notably the tragic loss of the former dean, and colleague and friend, Professor Bongani Mayosi. The start of Wonkam's tenure was thus a traumatic one and coincided with the tail end of the Fees Must Fall and Rhodes Must Fall protests.

Despite this, the portfolio has delivered on numerous key objectives. This includes reviewing research finance operations; finalising the faculty's risks register; key appointments, including that of the director of faculty operations; introducing programmatic awards, such as the honours student transformation award through the faculty research committee, stimulus grants for clinical researchers, emerging researchers and for accredited research groupings; and partnering with The African Academy of Sciences.

Together, this deputy dean dream team will work together with the rest of the faculty deanery, who are all committed to building a faculty of excellence and transformation

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