Transformative Education
for Health Professionals

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Caring for Communities: Training Clinical Associates in South Africa

Sanele Ngcobo, Nadia Cobb MS, PA-C

Clinical Associates are competent, professional members of the healthcare team, with the knowledge, training, skills, and commitment necessary to function effectively within the district health system in South Africa. This is a new profession that was introduced in SA in 2008, the main aim being to increase the HRH capacity within the SA health system, especially in rural areas to. The first group of Clinical Associates qualified in 2011 at Walter Sisulu University.  The rigorous, nationally standardized curriculum is competency-based. Clinical Associates provide  medical service within their scope of practice that is delegated to them by the supervising medical practitioner.

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Currently there are three University training Clinical Associate; University of Pretoria, Walter Sisulu University and Wits University. Clinical Associates are required to earn a Bachelor of Clinical Medical Practice from an accredited university to qualify for registration with the Health Professions Council of South Africa. Rooted in problem-based learning, this 3-year course of study emphasizes the acquisition of hands-on clinical skills that Clinical Associates need to take their place as essential members of district-level care teams. 

The training of the clinical associates is coordinated by the Department of Family Medicine in the School of Medicine, which is also responsible for the training of medical doctors and specialists. The students who complete the BCMP degree register as clinical associates with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA).

For the BCMP three-year programme, the students are recruited from disadvantaged rural areas from Mpumalanga, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. The students have to meet the provincial requirements for full funding, and their study fees are paid in full as soon as they commence the programme. The BCMP students from the University of Pretoria have received extensive training in various district hospitals in Mpumalanga, Free State, KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng provinces.

The South Africa Military Health Service (SAMHS) also benefit by using clinical associates to help strengthen their medical teams.

Most Clinical Associates student at University of Pretoria are recruited from rural areas, where there is a huge shortage of doctors and they are required to go back and work in their communities for 3 years after qualifying.

During their initial year of study, Clinical Associate students spend the early part of their first semester learning clinical theory and practice on the Medical Campus, with a strong focus on learning how to take a detailed patient history and conduct a clinical examination. During this period they do Anatomy, physiology and introduction to pharmacology. For the remainder of the three years, students learn through actual practice at clinical sites mostly hospitals in rural settings.


The training Clinical Associates receive prepares them to provide a broad range of medical care, including but not limited to:

  1. Obtaining patient histories
  2. Performing physical exams
  3. Ordering diagnostic or therapeutic procedures
  4. Interpreting findings and diagnosing common emergency conditions
  5. Developing and implementing a treatment plan
  6. Monitoring efficacy of therapeutic interventions
  7. Assisting with surgeries
  8. Providing patient education and counseling
  9. Making appropriate referrals for specialized care


  1. University of Pretoria introduces a new generation of health professionals in South Africa. Available at
  2. A New Kind of Health Professional in South Africa. Available at :

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