eLearning and Medical Education in Ghana: More Health Workers at the End of the Day

Dr. Christian Osae Obirikorang chose to become a health worker because he possessed the passion to save lives. And he chose to focus on education so he could help produce more health professionals to save even more lives. “I want to help train people, so that they'll come out with quality skills to help in health care delivery,” he says.

Dr. Obirikorang earned his bachelor’s degree in laboratory technology and his PhD in chemical pathology. He’s now a lecturer in the Department of Molecular Medicine at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology’s School of Medical Sciences in Kumasi, Ghana. He points out that, like many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Ghana has a huge need for medical professionals, especially doctors.

According to the WHO’s 2006 World Health Report, there were only 3,240 doctors in the entire country in 2006 (15 for every 10,000 people). A recent article reports that the shortage of doctors remains alarming and patient load is too high (the doctor-patient ratio is about 1:15,000), which affects the ability to provide quality care.  
Sitting in his office, Dr. Obirikorang tells us how his school plans to utilize eLearning to transform education and accelerate the production of doctors and other graduates.

“eLearning will expand access to medical education,” notes Dr. Obirikorang, “and it will make life easier for students.”
The dean of his school, Dr. Yaw Adu-Sarkodie, agrees. “What I see of the eLearning platform is that it is a limitless thing,” he says. He’s also a professor of clinical microbiology and believes leveraging eLearning will enable his school to increase student intake while keeping quality high.
Dr. Obirikorang says that eLearning will allow class size to increase in a short amount of time since students are not confined to one physical classroom. He adds that “eLearning will also expand and enrich students’ learning styles because they will be able to go back and review the material on their own time.”

medical students in the courtyard

Learning from other schools in the Medical Education Partnership Initiative 
Both professors attended an eLearning workshop in Botswana in March that was hosted by CapacityPlus and the Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI). Their school is one of 13 universities across sub-Saharan Africa receiving funding from MEPI, a five-year PEPFAR-funded initiative to increase the capacity and quality of African medical education, improve the retention of medical graduates, and promote regionally-relevant research through locally-led innovative programs. At the workshop, participants shared their experiences with eLearning and drafted strategic plans to outline their visions for the future.
The professors returned with a broader understanding of eLearning and its benefits, and incorporated what they learned from other universities into a strategic plan for their school. For example, the Addis Ababa University shared that their medical students receive low-cost tablets loaded with all their textbooks to facilitate learning. The professors’ school wants to pursue a similar program for its medical students. The University of Botswana showcased an eLearning intervention that allows medical students to see anatomical virtual images projected to obtain a deeper look into tissues. This is on the wish list for the professors’ school. 
Building on existing infrastructure
The school intends to build new eLearning initiatives into its existing infrastructure, which includes campus-wide wireless Internet and a computer center in the main library. Also, most of the students already own laptops or desktop computers.

students in computer lab

The university plans to develop a software platform that will house curriculum content, host discussion forums for students and faculty, and accommodate online exams.

Dr. Adu-Sarkodie wants to use eLearning to solve the overcrowding of medical students in nearby teaching hospitals. The six-year medical curriculum is structured so the first three years are completed in the classroom while the last three take place in a clinical teaching hospital. Currently, the school’s medical students are restricted to certain hospitals so they can easily return to campus for lectures. But Dr. Adu-Sarkodie says eLearning makes it possible to use more peripheral clinics since the students could listen to lectures and engage in dialogue with the professors from anywhere with an Internet connection. This could lessen the burden on congested teaching hospitals and bring students to more rural settings where there is the greatest shortage of doctors.

Dr. Adu-Sarkodie

Dr. Obirikorang is currently creating a biochemistry course as the first eLearning course developed by the medical school. He thinks his main challenge will be orienting students and faculty to this innovative learning style, so he’s organizing eLearning training sessions for them. Dr. Obirikorang says he’s very optimistic: “At the end of the day, we are going to have a lot of accessibility. We are going to improve knowledge transfer from the faculty members to the students. It's going to improve the whole health system.” 
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Photos by Carol Bales (medical students in the courtyard, students studying in computer lab, and Dr. Adu-Sarkodie in his office)