The PHASA conference from the perspective of undergraduate medical students

The 7th annual Public Health Association of South Africa (PHASA) conference was held in Sandton, Johannesburg and for the first time undergraduate medical students showcased their research through either oral or poster presentations. Students from the University of Pretoria and University of Witwatersrand made 5 presentations. The students are: Lorato Sebetlela, Evodia Koto and Shaaista Cassim from the University of Pretoria and Allessandra Bellomo and Meshack Motha from the University of Witwatersrand.

Students perspectives

Lorato Sebetlela won the second prize for the best oral presentation at the conference for a presentation entitled “Levels of burnout in healthcare workers: the most vulnerable group and the main reasons thereof”. She found the conference to be all encompassing and well organised, and thinks that the PHASA conference exposed her to practical aspects of public health that no class module could ever offer. Lorato’s recommendation that the conference organisers give more undergraduates an opportunity to attend PHASA conferences, not only to showcase their research but also to learn, network and get exposure to real public health issues.

Evodia Koto presented a poster presentation on the costs that uncomplicated hypertensive patients incur when they access “free” medication compared to when they purchase the drugs at a local pharmacy. She also found the PHASA conference to be intellectually engaging and she said: “I have learned that being a medical practitioner is not only practising after completion of one’s degree, but it comprises of being a lifelong learner. Research takes place all the time in order to improve the health of all patients.”

Shaaista Cassim felt greatly honoured to have been one of the first undergraduates to attend and present at a PHASA conference. Shaaista gave a poster presentation entitled “Assessment of patients’ perception of financial value of free primary health care (PHC) at the Pretoria North Clinic”. When she was asked to comment on the conference she said: “The PHASA conference has made me realise that my actions as a future health care worker do not only affect individuals but may have repercussions on the society as a whole. Therefore I hope that my work will help to ensure equity in health care among all South Africans and will contribute to an improvement in the quality of health care in South Africa.”

Allessandro Bellomo and Meshack Motha both made an oral presentation based on a Community site project conducted among Moletsane High School students. Both agreed that the conference was very informative in that it highlighted key concerns and opportunities in which health workers, policy makers and the community could engage in to resolve current population based health challenges. For them the conference emphasised the importance of public health research in the country and through attending other presentations they also learnt of different public health interventions and how the interventions can be implemented within communities to address their health problems.

In conversations with the student’s they all expressed gratitude to the organisers for the opportunity to attend and present at PHASA. Not only was it a platform to showcase their research but also to form relationships with other health professionals. In all, the conference proved to be an excellent forum for bringing together talented students with public health researchers. The students were impressed that public Health experts attended the presentations of the undergraduates in numbers which shows the openness of public health professionals to upcoming talent. As South Africa moves toward closing the health equity gap through public health leadership, education and practice, there is no better time to engage young and upcoming researchers with public health issues as is now.

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