The story of EPASS and Family Medicine at Stellenbosch University: part 1

Family Medicine?!

Family Medicine is a relatively new specialisation in South Africa, it started in 2007 based on a need. In Africa 70% of the Family Physicians work in district hospitals in rural areas. Contrary to Family Physicians in North America and Europe they have to perform clinical procedures and operations.

The meeting

On a hot December morning in 2014 my partner Yusri Dien and I had a meeting with 3 professors from the division of Family Medicine and Primary Care (FamMed) at Stellenbosch University: Bob Mash (head of FamMed Stellenbosch University), Louis Jenkins (head of Fammed George hospital) and Julia Blitz (now vice-dean Learning and Teaching). In this meeting we presented EPASS, the ‘open’ digital portfolio that is developed in Maastricht University – the Netherlands.

Assessment

Postgraduate FanMed students (registrars) have to develop knowledge, skills, competences.  To improve the validity of the assessment, workplace-based assessment (WPBA) was implemented. In order to capture this WPBA a national learning portfolio was developed through a consensus process involving all eight universities. It was implemented in 2010.  Registrars must show evidence of satisfactory performance over a three-year period, in an accredited training post, in order to enter the final national exit exam.

Potential

In the meeting we presented a version of EPASS that was developed for Gynaecologists. This version offers lots of different options so Prof. Bob Mash and his colleagues could immediately see its potential. And they did! Intaka Learning was pleased to have found a partner that shared the vision behind EPASS: importance of feedback, focus on development, assessment of ánd for learning.
In May 2015 we agreed to start the process of developing the first version of EPASS in South Africa for Family Medicine.

The development process

EPASS is an ‘open’ system, meaning it has to be adapted to a specific context (assessment policy). All involved knew this would take time and money, so we were prepared.
We started with comparing the paper portfolio of learning with the different options and feedback- and assessment forms that are available in EPASS. From February – May 2015 we worked together on a first version of the specifications: what options are needed, what are the implications, how exactly are they related, etc. In June the specifications were translated in ‘description of work’ and in September and October the developers in the Netherlands could start the actual development. November was used for testing, new insights, adjusting, more testing and de-bugging. In December EPASS for Family Medicine was ready for use and the pilot in Eden district could be prepared.

All of us were excited with the new insights and functionalities that developed on the way. In 2015 the focus was on specifications, development, testing, more development and testing, and preparing for the pilot.
In February 2016 the pilot kicked off in George with a workshop by Intaka Learning in which EPASS was introduced to the staff. Interested to find out what happened at the pilot? Read our next blog post (coming soon)!  

Jenkins L, Mash B, Derese A. Reliability testing of a portfolio assessment tool for postgraduate family medicine training in South Africa. Afr J Prim Health Care Fam Med. 2013;5:1–9.

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