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Eight questions first-years in Health Sciences ask

- Wits University

What happens when you fail? Can Wits stop me being lazy? I come from Zimbabwe – can I feel free at Wits? Did I make the right choice coming here?

Professor Lionel Green-Thompson, Assistant Dean, Health Sciences Teaching And Learning Office at Wits invited these first-year students to SMS him questions during their O-Week welcome lecture that took place in the CMJH Auditorium on Thursday, 1 February 2018. 

He told students that he was mindful of the transition from a small town to Johannesburg – having himself come to Wits from a small town as an undergraduate in the 1980s. 

Prof. Lionel Green Thompson Health Sciences Teaching And Learning Office

“You don’t really know where your journey will end. Be mindful of each other,” he said, urging first-years to develop a sense of congeniality (given the “competitive nature” of health sciences students), before responding to the barrage of texts flooding his phone:

1. How do I make a change bigger than an average doctor?

“What’s an ‘average’ doctor?”’ replied Thompson-Green. He referenced a study he had done in which he identified three types of medical students: The mercantile; the service-orientated; and those who walk the path to see where it led. He suggested the latter might be ‘the average doctors’. He pointed out that Wits Pharmacy and Medical School students had established a volunteer-based clinic and soup kitchen for the homeless at the Trinity Catholic Church in Braamfontein. He encouraged first-years to seek out these and similar student initiatives that, through their service, elevate the health professions to above-average.

2. I’m anxious and not adjusting. Can you help?

Visit Student Support and ask for help. First-years accumulate 50 new facts a day during O-Week. It can be a disorientating experience. “We acknowledge your anxiety,” he said, urging first years to take responsibility for themselves and their well-being.

3. What happens when you fail?

“It’s too soon to talk about failure”, said Green-Thompson, but said he would compile a fact sheet to share with Student Support, who would make it available to students. Ntsiki Mapukata is the manager of Student Support. 

4. Is the fear of failure greater than the hunger for success?

“Many of you will fail for the first time. If you live in fear of failure, you cannot succeed,” said the Assistant Dean. View your failure as ultimately contributing your learning. Deal with the failure immediately and ask for help from the Office of Student Support - before it’s too late!

5. Have you ever doubted your capabilities as a doctor?

“Absolutely. You should, or you’re building an arrogance. Practice reflecting being who you are. Your patients deserve that you can reflect on what you are.”

6. I come from Zimbabwe – can I feel free at Wits?

“You all belong to Wits. Whether you come from Africa, South Africa, Europe. You are all the same. You will never be treated differently. Wits does not tolerate racism and xenophobia.”

7. Have I made the right choice coming to Wits?

Wits is the best university in Africa with global standing. Research shows that a qualification from Wits gives you an employability advantage. Wits gives you the edge.

8. Can Wits stop me being so lazy?

Green-Thompson recalled that he was amongst the first tranche of black doctors permitted in Wits residence in the 1980s. Outside his room was a Pacman machine – which greatly impacted on his academic performance in second year!

“When you watch a soccer game and read about it in the newspaper afterwards, your recall is better. Similarly, make a daily habit of reading your notes immediately – on the bus, walking back to res – take time to reflect.” This might not necessarily alleviate laziness, but suggested it was a low-key strategy to sustain a study habit.

Ask for help!

Ntsiki Mapukata, manager of the Office of Student Support acknowledged the first-years' previous academic history, where they were likely "big fish in a small pond". She addressed their fears where they may, at Wits, now feel like small fish in a big pond. "Have at least one conversation - which is the mantra of our office - to counter the effects of feeling displaced, over-whelmed and missing home," she said.Ntsiki Mapukata is the manager of the Office of Student Support in the Faculty of Health Sciences

A nod of welcome from Heads of School

Several heads of schools attended the O-Week welcome lecture and addressed the first-years:

Professor Maryna Steyn, head of Anatomical Sciences cautioned first-years: “Meeting a body for the first time can be traumatic. Come see us if it’s a problem,” she said.

Prof. Maryna Steyn Head of the School of Anatomical Sciences 

Professor Daynia Ballot, head of Clinical Medicine assured first-years they had made the right choice coming to this University. “Wits is the best in Africa and has global standing,” she said. She pointed out that first-years’ “ten distinctions in matric don’t matter anymore.” She urged them to take their studies seriously and reiterated, “People can’t help you if they don’t know you’re in trouble,” adding that her office is 4B44 on the fifth floor, past the coffee shop.

Professor Daynia Ballot is Head of the School of Clinical Medicine at Wits from October 2017

Professor Judy Bruce, head of Therapeutic Sciences, said the school trains the “greatest diversity of health professionals in South Africa” including graduates in exercise science, sports medicine, nursing, occupational therapy, pharmacy, pharmacology, and physiotherapy. She said the school has sterling academics with high professional and ethical standards, who strive to produce health professionals who are socially aware, accountable and engaged.

Bruce pointed out that the eFundanathi eZone, managed by Dr Paula Barnard is a physical learning space that uses cutting-edge technology and advanced eLearning tools. “Therapeutic Sciences is very little ‘chalk and talk’. Your work is pivotal to successful patient outcomes. It’s up to you to shape a great experience,” said Bruce.

Professor Tobias Chirwa heads the School of Public Health. He congratulated first-years and said, “Be proud of yourself to be at Wits Faculty of Health Sciences.” Chirwa said his was mainly a postgraduate school that provided postgraduate opportunities for students to combine research in their communities with clinical training. “In Public Health, we need all of you. We are mainly concerned with preventing people from getting sick. We protect people from getting sick,” he said.

Prof. Tobias Chirwa has been appointed Head of the School of Public Health at Wits, effective 1 February 2017

Other schools in the Faculty of Health Sciences include Oral Health Sciences, led by Prof. Simon Nemutandani; Pathology, headed by Prof. Johnny Mahlangu; and Physiology, which Prof. William Daniels leads.

Simone Budler (MBBCh III), Deputy Chair: Health Sciences Students Council and Chairperson of Bachelor of Health, concluded proceedings with warm and entertaining advice: “You are all welcome at Wits. First year is about becoming a Witsie. They are your family now. You will learn to speak your own English. If you feel your background doesn’t prepare you, be brave enough ask for help. Wits is all about getting out of your comfort zone. Get to know who you are.”

Find the Faculty of Health Sciences Office of Student Support on the first floor of the Philip V Tobias building, 29 Princess of Wales Terrace (Corner York Road), Parktown. Telephone numbers: 011 717 2431 or 011 717 2565.