oa South African Health Review - A rural scholarship model addressing the shortage of healthcare workers in rural areas - case study

Volume 2018 Number 1
  • ISSN : 1025-1715



Shortage of healthcare workers (HCWs) in rural areas is an international problem. In South Africa the Umthombo Youth Development Foundation (UYDF) scholarship scheme is an intervention to attract and retain HCWs in rural areas. Umthombo began 19 years ago. The scholarship scheme is based on the premise that graduates of rural origin are more likely to choose to work in rural areas, and that funding the studies of such students is a viable option in increasing the number of health workers in rural areas. To date, a total of 337 students spanning 16 different disciplines have graduated as a result of the Foundation’s support. The scheme has recorded a 92% university pass rate over the past five years. This chapter describes the key features of the scholarship programme, reflects on the challenges and lessons learnt, and discusses the broader application of the UYDF model in producing HCWs committed to public and rural service. The UYDF experience demonstrates that rural students from quintile 1 and 2 non-fee-paying schools can succeed at university if provided with the necessary financial, academic and social mentoring support; that graduates will return to work in their local hospitals if it is a condition of support; and that training of HCWs who remain and work in South Africa is an economic investment. Extension of the model may increase the number of HCWs in rural areas, which is promising given that staffing rural areas is likely to be a major challenge in the successful rollout of the National Health Insurance system.

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