UCT’s Private Academic Hospital, a centre of outstanding medical expertise, should be expanded to become the preferred provider, UCT’s new dean of the faculty of health sciences, Wim de Villiers, said yesterday.
This is one of the many changes De Villiers hopes to encourage in his new post.
“There is incredible expertise at this institution. We should expand that hospital. For instance there are cutting-edge neurosurgery techniques that were developed there.”
The private hospital of 122 beds was established in the 1990s partly as a way to retain then poorly paid academic staff, and partly to give them the opportunity to stay up to speed with new technology which the public sector could not afford. The private hospital, 25 percent owned by UCT, provides advanced surgical techniques that patients would not get at other hospitals. It has a bed occupancy rate of 60 percent.
De Villiers, born and bred in Stellenbosch, returns to South Africa to head the faculty after an illustrious career overseas, including 18 years in the US. A top researcher in gastroenterology, De Villiers headed the division in digestive diseases and nutrition at Kentucky University.
He believes UCT underplays its international reputation for academic excellence. He would like to see that changed. “Our faculty of health sciences ranks in the top 50 of medical schools in the world.”
Another change he would like to see is putting patient care at the centre of everything.
One of the reasons UCT’s medical school was so highly regarded was because of the excellence of its research, “which has exploded over the last few years”.
One of the drivers of research was their Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, and research in TB, HIV, pulmonology and cardio-vascular diseases. The psychiatry department was in the top 20 worldwide.
There were several challenges, including how to grow the next generation of clinical researchers, to increase the number of doctors being qualified, to keep research going and to find funding for research.
Looking at creative ways of getting money for research was another goal De Villiers would pursue.