Thanks to a collaboration with the private healthcare sector, the University of Cape Town (UCT) Faculty of Health Sciences has introduced Africa’s first master’s degree in interventional cardiology, a heart medicine sub-specialty that provides minimally invasive, image-guided diagnosis and treatment of cardiac medical conditions.
Professor Mpiko Ntsekhe, Head of the Division of Cardiology at the UCT Faculty of Health Sciences, says that the new two-year Master’s degree “was made possible by a partnership between the university, Netcare Sunninghill Hospital and internationally-renowned local interventional cardiologist, Professor Farrel Hellig, who has been appointed Visiting Associate Professor of Cardiology here at UCT.
“This is an important first for South Africa as an academic training qualification in interventional cardiology, which is becoming an increasingly important sub-speciality both locally and around the world, has never before been offered anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa,” points out Prof Ntsekhe.
“Previously local cardiologists have had to travel abroad to the United States or Europe if they wished to obtain formal accredited academic training in interventional cardiology. Alternatively, they would have had to spend years gaining experience in intricate interventional techniques under the guidance of an experienced mentor if they wished to specialise in this field,” he explains.
“The two-year degree involves a year of clinical training and a further year of practical training with Prof Hellig. Having studied abroad extensively, Prof Hellig has vast experience in interventional cardiology and performs hundreds of these intricate procedures every year.
“His extensive experience with high-risk patients has often cast him in a long-distance teaching role, performing live procedures at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital in Johannesburg which are then screened to his peers from around the world to demonstrate and share his skills and techniques.
“Prof Hellig and the UCT Division of Cardiology have a long association and have collaborated on a number of projects in the past. I know that he has always had a passion for teaching and imparting his considerable knowledge and skills to his colleagues. This project was therefore a logical next step in our relationship and it is most gratifying that we are now able to work together to bring this much needed training qualification to South Africa.”
Prof Hellig said that he regarded education as crucial to the future of South African healthcare. “It is humbling and an honour to be appointed as an associate professor at UCT Medical School and to contribute to the advancement of the cardiology profession in Africa in this way. The UCT Division of Cardiology must be acknowledged for the tremendous vision they have shown in developing this public-private partnership in order to broaden educational opportunities in South Africa.”
Prof Hellig and his colleagues in their group practice have worked to establish a world-class cardiac centre at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital over the years. With the necessary skills and facilities firmly in place, the practice has now been accredited as a teaching facility. “By bringing together the skills and resources from the private and academic sectors, a most meaningful teaching resource has been made available right here in our own country, ” he observes.
Prof Hellig says that the first candidate commenced training at the beginning of March this year. He is a South African born cardiologist who returned from New Zealand in order to participate in the new interventional post-graduate programme. “It is gratifying that the course, which will currently take on one trainee at a time, has been able to attract scarce medical skills back to South Africa.”
“Interventional cardiology allows us to perform a wide spectrum of procedures ranging from the unblocking of blocked blood vessels with stents, to heart valve replacement and repair, using minimally invasive techniques which are far less traumatic to the body than open heart surgery.
“Patients recover from these procedures much more rapidly, with most being discharged from hospital within just 24 hours of the procedure. In addition, we are able to perform procedures on highly compromised patients who might not have survived open heart surgery,” he points out.
“It is therefore not surprising that there is an increasing demand for interventional cardiology. However, the techniques involved can be complex and few cardiologists in the private and public sectors in this country have had the opportunity to acquire the necessary skills. This new post-graduate course will contribute in addressing this situation,” explains Prof Hellig.
Jacques du Plessis, managing director of the Netcare hospital division, congratulated Prof Hellig, the UCT Division of Cardiology, the cardiac team and the management at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital on this important milestone. “We at Netcare have always regarded the development of local medical skills in both the private and public sectors as a critical aspect of our operations. This new post-graduate degree is an important advancement for cardiology in South Africa and we are pleased to play a part in making it a reality.”
Issued by: MNA on behalf of UCT Department of Medicine and Netcare Sunninghill Hospital
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