Original articles

Rural origin health science students in South African universities

John Musyoki Tumbo, Ian D Couper, Jannie F Hugo


Worldwide, rural areas experience marked shortages of health care professionals. In South Africa, this shortage is acute with some rural areas having a doctor to population ratio of 5.5:100 000. Similar patterns apply to other health professionals. Increasing the proportion of rural origin students in faculties of health sciences has been shown to be one way of addressing such shortages, as these students are more likely to work in rural areas.

A situational analysis to determine the proportion of rural origin students in all medical schools in South Africa.

A retrospective descriptive study was conducted in 2003. Lists of undergraduate students admitted for medicine, dentistry, physiotherapy and occupational therapy from 1999 to 2002 were obtained from nine health science faculties. Origin of students was classified into city, town and rural using postal codes. The proportion of rural origin students was determined from this, and compared to the percentage of rural people in South Africa (46.3%).

Of the 7358 students, 4341 (59%) were from cities, 1107 (15%) from towns and 1910 (26%) from rural areas. The proportion of rural origin students in the different courses nationally were; medicine 27.4%, physiotherapy 22.4%, occupational therapy 26.7% and dentistry 24.8%.

The proportion of rural origin students in South Africa was lower than the national ratio of rural population. There is need for strategies to increase the numbers of rural origin students in the universities through preferential admission to alleviate shortages of health professionals in rural areas.

Authors' affiliations

John Musyoki Tumbo, Medunsa

Ian D Couper, Division of Rural Health, University of Witwatersrand

Jannie F Hugo, Department of family medicine, university of Pretoria

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Rural, students; Universities; Health sciences

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2009;99(1):54.

Article History

Date submitted: 2008-06-29
Date published: 2009-01-12

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