It is with great pleasure and pride that we award the 2016 SAAHE Distinguished Educator award to Professor Marietjie de Villiers, from the Family Medicine and Primary Care Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Stellenbosch University.
From the nomination:
A true health professions educator is one who facilitates learning in every possible way from introducing a group of excited first-year students to the field of medicine, through supporting postgraduate students in their endeavours to become masters of their craft, to engaging a group of practicing clinicians around their continued professional learning. In addition, a true educator functions as advocate and activist for learning and teaching, challenges accepted norms with a view to enhancing teaching practice, and fosters the establishment of enabling environments where potentially transformative learning can take place. Marietjie de Villiers is such an educator. In a career of over 35 years (23 in academic medicine at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS), Stellenbosch University), Professor de Villiers progressed from being a lecturer to full Professor in 11 years and to Deputy Dean: Education in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences in 2006. More importantly, however, she has been the catalyst for a whole range of learning and teaching innovations and projects that through the years have established the FMHS as a pioneer in the field of medical and health professions education. Her work is characterised by a dedication and commitment to her students and the staff with whom she works, and is informed by an enduring commitment to the provision of quality health outcomes within a socially just context. In this submission, we track the career of this remarkable educator and teacher, and present it as motivation for why she would be a worthy winner of the SAAHE Distinguished Educator award.
After matriculation at the Paarl Gymnasium in 1973, Marietjie spent a year at the SA Women’s Army College in George before embarking on her medical degree at Stellenbosch University in 1975. After graduation and internship she joined a general practice in Kuilsriver in the Western Cape before moving to Mfuleni where she worked in the local township for six years spurred on by a commitment during the apartheid years to care for the poor and the oppressed. As teacher at heart, however, she eventually took up a position in the FMHS at SU in 1993 having obtained her Master’s degree in Family Medicine (1988). Later she obtained her PhD in Family Medicine which focussed on the development of content and appropriate methods for maintenance of competence for generalist medical practitioners working in rural areas (2004), which was the first research on rural medicine in South Africa at the time
It is, however, her work in educational leadership and management – at faculty, institutional, national and international level – that sets Marietjie de Villiers apart as advocate for health professions education. Prof de Villiers is not only an educator who makes things happen, she is also a teaching scholar and is regularly called upon to present plenaries at national and international scientific meetings. More than 25 of her peer-reviewed publications focus on an aspect of education, with community based education being a strong theme in her research. She regularly presents her work at local and international health professions education conferences and has attended ten SAAHE meetings and conferences through the years. She was the FMHS representative on SAAME (the SAAHE precursor) and led the transition from SAAME to SAAHE at the FMHS at the time.
Prof de Villiers has earned international, African and national standing as a leader in health professions education. She has presented 172 papers at international and national conferences, and published 89 publications of which 40 original research articles and 12 book chapters. Marietjie de Villiers is a believer – she believes in people, she believes in the power of education to influence health outcomes, and she believes in South Africa. In 2007 she co-authored an article in Medical Teacher entitled: Medical Education in South Africa: Exciting times. The closing paragraph in that article says the following:
Despite all the odds, medical education in South Africa continues to produce excellent doctors using up to date educational strategies. We are proud of our political, economic and social changes. We are not complacent about further changes that need to take place. Watch this space and watch this country.
Since the publication of that article, Marietjie has continued to strive towards effecting the ‘further changes’ that are needed in health professions education on the African continent, influencing practice in the FMHS and beyond, doing so in a generative and meaningful way, taking others with her along the way. There can be no doubt that she would be a worthy winner of the SAAHE Distinguished Educator Award in 2016.