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PhD interest group: SAAFP Education and Training Committee
PhD interest group: SAAFP Education and Training Committee (established in April 2021)
The 2008 World Health Report emphasised that strong PHC systems lead to better health outcomes for the population they serve and noted that effective PHC systems usually include “physicians with a specialisation in family medicine or general practice”. The discipline of family medicine is gaining traction in South Africa, but more high-quality research is needed to help advocate for the contribution of family medicine and primary care. Previous workshops and activities have focused on postgraduate supervision and primary care research in general. Building the capacity for research at the doctoral level will generate more robust, multi-centre evidence required by policymakers and healthcare managers. The potential benefits of having PhD graduates are numerous and include better supervision capacity (at both Masters and doctoral levels), higher quality of research that can influence policy and practice, and a stronger impact of the discipline of family medicine in the education and health sector.
The following goals and terms of reference were developed in 2021:
1. Why is it important to develop more family physicians with PhDs in South Africa?
Family physicians occupy a unique niche and often address research questions with research methods not considered in laboratories or central hospitals. For example, implementation science and translational research studies in district health services.
Increased capacity at doctoral level may lead to improved quality of care in the district health services, as research at doctoral level may highlight areas in need of change and innovation.
Doctoral research may have a greater chance of creating constructive knowledge to the benefit of communities.
Research at PhD level will contribute to the growth of the discipline’s knowledge base, is more likely to influence policy, and enhance the credibility of family medicine among other disciplines and stakeholders.
The disseminated teaching model that is typical of family medicine may be enhanced by PhD-level research, especially if conducted through a health professions education lens.
The community of practice established at institutional level may expand to a national level.
2. What are our goals in the next 5 years?
Provide research capacity building at the national conference.
Increase collaboration between institutions with more capacity and those with less.
Share information on supervisors, research interests and expertise, and examiners at a doctoral level.
In terms of topics or areas for potential PhD research – decide on a strategy at institutional/national level and link this with the individual candidate’s passion. Hopefully, these topics may also be matched with funding calls.
3. What do we need to do to achieve these goals?
Increase awareness of steppingstones in the academic journey, such as full research Master’s degree. This and other information may be shared in the community of practice/network of doctoral researchers and supervisors.
Increase outreach and collaboration between institutions.
Share resources and provide training at a national level, especially regarding research supervision at doctoral level and grant writing. Modules on research methods may also be shared between institutions.
Agree on a research agenda, linked to available funding calls. This may be linked to creating a pool of research questions from within the community of practice.
Increase the pool of supervisors from a strategic perspective. This may include a database of willing and capacitated supervisors.
At present there is limited capacity at a national level to supervise doctoral research; this means that we should be strategic regarding what type of PhD candidates we should be taking on. We may need to set criteria, such as a willingness to stay in the country and help supervise research at masters and doctoral level in family medicine and primary care. This may only be necessary for the short term, as we strive to double the number of PhDs in family medicine. In time, such criteria may no longer be necessary.
Promote optimal health for the people in Southern Africa through advocacy, support and the development of the primary health care team, and the establishment of an equitable, humane and integrated district health care system.