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Critical orientations for humanising health sciences education in South Africa
  1. Michelle Pentecost1,2,
  2. Berna Gerber3,
  3. Megan Wainwright4,
  4. Thomas Cousins5,6
  1. 1 Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, King’s College London, London, UK
  2. 2 School of African and Gender Studies, Anthropology and Linguistics, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
  3. 3 Division of Speech, Language and Hearing Therapy, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Stellenbosch, Cape Town, South Africa
  4. 4 Division of Social and Behavioural Sciences, School of Public Health and Family Medicine, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
  5. 5 Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  6. 6 Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch, South Africa
  1. Correspondence to Dr Michelle Pentecost, Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, King’s College London, London WC2R 2LS, UK; michelle.pentecost{at}


In this article, the authors make a case for the ’humanisation' and ’decolonisation' of health sciences curricula in South Africa, using integration as a guiding framework. Integration refers to an education that is built on a consolidated conceptual framework that includes and equally values the natural or biomedical sciences as well as the humanities, arts and social sciences, respecting that all of this knowledge has value for the practice of healthcare. An integrated curriculum goes beyond add-on or elective courses in the humanities and social sciences. It is a curriculum that includes previously marginalised sources of knowledge (challenging knowledge hierarchies and decolonising curricula); addresses an appropriate intellectual self-image in health sciences education (challenging the image of the health professional); promotes understanding of history and social context, centring issues of inclusion, access and social justice (cultivating a social ethic) and finally, focuses on care and relatedness as an essential aspect of clinical work (embedding relatedness in practice). The article offers a brief historical overview of challenges in health and health sciences education in South Africa since 1994, followed by a discussion of contemporary developments in critical health sciences pedagogies and the medical and health humanities in South Africa. It then draws on examples from South Africa to outline how these four critical orientations or competencies might be applied in practice, to educate health professionals that can meet the challenges of health and healthcare in contemporary South Africa.

  • medical humanities
  • health care education
  • philosophy of medicine/health care
  • medical anthropology

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  • Contributors The authors planned and conceptualised the piece together. MP created a framework and the authors contributed equally to writing and revisions. MP edited the piece for cohesion and attended to technical aspects such as referencing. All authors contributed to revisions based on reviewers' comments and read, commented on and approved the entire manuscript before the final submission.

  • Funding The authors are grateful for open access funding from Stellenbosch University, South Africa; BG acknowledges support from a Stellenbosch University Teaching Fellowship. The authors acknowledge generous funding from the Brocher Foundation, Switzerland. The Brocher Foundation mission is to encourage research on the ethical, legal and social implications of new medical technologies. Its main activities are to host visiting researchers and to organise symposia, workshops and summer academies. More information on the Brocher foundation programme is available at

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.