Project Lead(s): Benjamin Aflakpui
Ghana suffers due to a critical shortage of health professionals.
A 2012 report revealed that the country’s doctor and nurse population ratio is 1:10,452 for physicians and 1:1,251 for nurses. These shortages create a significant disparity in quality of life and life expectancy for Ghanaians.
It is imperative to develop a cost-effective, rapid and effective solution to address the issue of scarcity of medical personnel.
The project sought to develop a physician assistant (PA) program in Ghana, by implementing and evaluating a distance-learning model that incorporates mobile learning, to reduce the need for residential training at a university.
The project was designed and delivered by the Central University College (CUC) in Ghana, in collaboration with Canadian and U.S. partners.
The distance-education model was designed to fit the needs of the students, the requirements of CUC, accreditation bodies and the cultural context of healthcare in Ghana.
Project staff members were trained in distance learning and, in October 2013, the pilot program was implemented with the first cohort of students.
Over 300 hours of face-to-face and online training was conducted for this project.
The training included 2–4 hours of online collaboration and training per week; face-to-face training was conducted by the international partners. These courses included introductory courses in distance learning, e-learning and mobile learning for CUC faculty and staff.
Students received training in online learning and were capacitated in technology support and troubleshooting.
A formative evaluation was conducted with the students and project personnel, to determine if improvements could be made to the program.
The project showed it is feasible to develop a physician assistant (PA) program in Ghana using e-learning but this program was not initiated due to staffing issues.
Sixty students (36 female and 24 male) enrolled in the program were employed as community health workers, nurses, medical assistants, home health aides and behavioural technicians.
Students welcomed the opportunity to study at a distance, which reduced travel costs and allowed them to continue to serve patients in their communities.
Due to staffing issues, the distance-learning project had to be halted and a new approach undertaken, relying on face-to-face lecturing and tutorials.
A total of 13 courses were offered for a seven-week period in the first summer break session, with 44 participants. The second summer break session was expected to start in July 2016.
The traditional PA face-to-face program upon which the distance-learning model is based, is already accredited. Therefore, the students were registered as part of the traditional PA system, which allows them to graduate seamlessly.
The CUC would like to scale the project and prepare modules for accreditation of the PA online program; discussions have begun with the Ministry of Health and Education.
The long-term plan is to train PAs to work in their communities, and to establish networks to support and mentor them.