Dr Rust Theron receives Distinguished Visitor Award

Posted on 19 September 2019

Dr Rust Theron is a well-known figure around Cape Town. He is a physician, as well as a pioneer in training medical students in private practice at Mediclinic Durbanville. His research portfolio includes diabetes, cardiology, gastroenterology and hypertension and he holds an MPhil Health Professions Education from University of Stellenbosch, where he graduated Cum Laude in 1995.

Where to next? From July 2019, Theron will be spending time at the 327 bed Dr Harry Surtie Hospital in Upington. Every three months he will be making visits to the hospital in order to support and assist the students and doctors currently placed at the facility. This will be done through the Discovery Foundation, which aims to address the shortages and quality of healthcare in rural and underserved areas in South Africa through the Distinguished Visitor Award. By providing grants to senior doctors, registrars in training, and specialists in family medicine and other major clinical disciplines, they hope to assist in delivering support to healthcare services in rural and underserved areas.

The University of Stellenbosch, through the Ukwanda Centre for Rural Health under the guidance of Prof. Ian Couper, is already currently offering broader support to the facility but there is much to be done at hospital level.

The relatively isolated Northern Cape hospital has approximately 30 doctors covering many departments. Two medical officers run the orthopaedics department, the cataract elective surgery waiting list is approaching the 400 mark and a team of one surgeon with two Community Service doctors manage the surgery department. With an average bed usage rate over 80% and more than 2500 admissions in the 2017/18 financial year, the clinical outcomes and mortality data indicate that additional support is urgently needed by the facility.

Through Ukwanda, 30 University of Stellenbosch medical students rotate annually through all disciplines at the Upington facility, and from August 2019, six Cuban trained South African medical students will also complete a 15 week rotation in primary care at the referral community based clinics in the area. Dr Rust Theron will fill the role of heading up Internal Medicine at the hospital, while for now other gaps remain.

With Dr Theron’s experience in tutoring medical students through Mediclinic facilities, the intended upscaling of student numbers will definitely prove valuable. Already, the confirmation of Theron’s tenure has increased moral and raised hope. An increase in the number of students showing interest in next year’s Community Service posts can be seen. Currently 10 posts exist, with only five doctors arriving in 2018 to complete their year’s service. Prof. Couper attributes this upturn to the fact that “they can see something is happening here.”

Dr Theron’s role will be to deal with the more challenging and difficult cases to diagnose – ‘to help solve the diagnostic conundrums’. He will also be involved in training the medical team as well as auditing poor outcomes and mortality data. According to Prof. Couper, the hospital aims to be re-accredited for internships and perhaps host post-graduate training. Both he and Dr Brad Wentzel were responsible for pushing through Theron’s application as a Distinguished Visitor as they believe the support they need extends beyond the scope of what the University can currently offer.

Dr Theron believes, “In the South African healthcare environment, we have to be willing to share and extend opportunities to other parts of the industry. We need to make our knowledge and skills available for others to learn and above all to ensure that our patients – all patients – have the opportunity of receiving access to quality care.”

“I believe that public private partnerships are the only way forward. Each of us has not only the opportunity, but also the obligation to take part and contribute in our own way. Through helping students to become better doctors, we benefit more patients than any of us could assist on our own. I always tell the students that I invest in their future as one day one of them might be my doctor!” concludes Dr Theron.

In the words of the Discovery Foundation, “In an effort to strengthen our public healthcare system in areas of need, selfless, determined and driven people can make a difference. These individuals are adding to the knowledge and excellence in healthcare.”

Published in Business