Throughput rates and time to completion of health science students of rural origin in South Africa

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R G MacGregor
A J Ross


Background. There is a shortage of qualified healthcare workers in South Africa (SA), as well as a maldistribution between urban and rural areas. Research has shown that health professionals of rural origin are more likely to live and work in rural areas than their urban colleagues. It has been recommended that student selection policies of higher education institutions should prioritise applicants from rural and remote areas to address the urban-rural maldistribution of graduates and to redress historical equity issues. However, university students in SA have high attrition and low graduation rates. The Umthombo Youth Development Foundation (UYDF) recruits and supports rural-origin health science students, who completed Grade 12 at a rural school, to address staff shortages in rural areas.

Objectives. To report on the throughput rates (percentage of cohort who graduate) and time to completion (number of years taken to graduate) of eight cohorts of UYDF-supported rural-origin health science students.

Methods. A total of 388 student records from the 2008 - 2015 cohorts, covering 17 different health science disciplines, were analysed, and throughput rates and time to completion for the different cohorts and health science disciplines were calculated. Throughput rates and time to completion were also calculated for 3-year, 4-year and 6-year qualifications.

Results. Throughput for the 2008 - 2015 cohorts ranged between 82% (2010 cohort) and 100% (2009 cohort). For 3-year qualifications, five cohorts had 100% throughput and one cohort 50% throughput. For 4-year qualifications, throughput ranged from 75% (2010 cohort) to 100% (2009 cohort). For medical students (6-year qualification), throughput ranged from a low of 81% (2014 cohort) to 100% in two cohorts (2008 and 2009). More female students (n=29) were excluded than male students (n=14). With regard to time to completion, over the eight cohorts 68% of students completed in the minimum time, 23% needed 1 additional year, 6% an additional 2 years, 2% an additional 3 years, and 1% an additional 4 years. For 4-year qualifications, 58% of students completed in the minimum time, 28% needed 1 additional year, 9% needed 2 additional years, 4% needed 3 additional years, and 1% needed an additional 4 years. Of medical students, 76% completed in the minimum time, 19% needed 1 additional year, and 98% had completed after 2 additional years.

Discussion. The UYDF students studying for 3-year and 4-year qualifications exceeded the national throughput rates in seven of eight cohorts. UYDF medical students exceeded the national statistics in four cohorts, had similar throughputs in two cohorts, and had lower throughputs than the national statistics in two cohorts. Overall, 91% of UYDF students across the eight cohorts completed in the minimum time plus 1 additional year, exceeding national statistics.

Conclusion. The relatively high throughput rates compared with the national statistics highlight the academic ability of rural-origin health science students and provide hope that national shortages of healthcare workers may be addressed if there is an investment in such students..


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Throughput rates and time to completion of health science students of rural origin in South Africa. (2024). African Journal of Health Professions Education, 16(2), e1140.
Research Articles
Author Biography

A J Ross, Discipline of Family Medicine, College of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

Professor Andrew Ross is a Principal Specialist in the Department of Family Medicine at the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He has experience in working in a remote rural district hospital, and managing a district hospital, understanding firt hand the challenges of delivering rural health care. His current role within the Department of Family Medicine includes training medical students, rendering services at associated training hospitals and research.

How to Cite

Throughput rates and time to completion of health science students of rural origin in South Africa. (2024). African Journal of Health Professions Education, 16(2), e1140.


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