A diverse group of Medical undergraduate students from UKZN had a unique cultural awareness experience when lecturers and Professor Neil Prose, a visiting Fulbright Scholar from Duke University in the United States, took to the local Traditional Healers’ Market and a mosque as part of a cross-cultural communication lesson.

The first of its kind in the MBChB programme, the initiative was Prose’s brainchild, addressing common cross-cultural communication challenges that arise during the doctor/patient consultation.

Students were encouraged to interact and engage as much as they can with each other’s cultures in the hope that the ‘cultural curiosity’ will make them better doctors in the near future.

Each member of the group was given R10 pocket money to go out and consult for specific muthi (medication) sold by traditional healers at the market. They had to find out where the muthi is from and which ailment it is used to treat.

‘I knew people consult traditional healers but I didn’t know it was such a huge industry,’ said Ms Lache Pretorious, a student in the MBChB programme.

‘It was so eye-opening. It’s a completely different world that we didn’t know existed,’ said Ms Khadeeja Manjra, also a student.

The group was fascinated to learn that some of the healers have been practicing for generations and hail far and wide to sell muthi that heals a variety of ailments also treated with Western medicine.

At the neighbouring Mosque, a tour was arranged where students learnt about the Islamic way of life.

Students of the same cultural backgrounds as the sites visited also took part in explaining to their peers why certain customs are done in certain ways.

Coined ‘An enriching experience, the group agreed that it is important for medical students to be conscious of traditional healing and different cultures, especially in a country like South Africa where people of various belief systems interact daily.

Students said they understood that patients come in to the consultation room with different histories. They learnt the importance of ‘winning’ the patient’s trust and showing respect and empathy always.

Dr Margaret Matthews, Clinical Skills Coordinator for Undergraduate Education in the MBChB programme said the day’s programme was a huge success and they intend to make it an annual event.