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About us

The Faculty of Health Sciences’ vision is to be a centre of excellence in health sciences that is locally relevant and globally competitive. 

Established over 100 years ago in 1912, the Faculty is the oldest medical school in sub-Saharan Africa, and the top-rated on the continent. With a stellar reputation in education and research we were ranked 48th in the 2014 Times Higher Education World University Rankings for clinical, preclinical and health, placing the Faculty in the company of internationally acclaimed universities. We have kept pace with global approaches to academic health sciences, accelerating efforts to improve health on our continent. Our staff have an international reputation for excellence. We have 12 NRF A-rated scientists and 122 rated researchers out of UCT’s 480.  Our 11 000 plus graduates continue to make their mark globally, many having achieved worldwide acclaim in their fields.

The largest of six faculties at UCT, with over 1500 staff and over 4000 students, the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS)  focusses on medical, nursing and the rehabilitation professions; and basic, translational, clinical and public health sciences. Our undergraduate programmes attract the country’s top students, from all communities. In 2015 we registered 2116 undergraduates. Our undergraduate programmes enjoy an excellent throughput -  In 2015 we had a 99 percent pass-rate. Our modernised curriculum is designed to ensure that our undergraduates are fit for purpose, with training and services delivered in facilities across the health system. 

Our fast growing and popular postgraduate registrations reached 2309 (including post-doctorals) for a range of diplomas and degrees, as well as specialist and sub-specialist degrees. Students from across the continent and beyond seek to hone their research skills with us, where cutting edge research on health in low to middle income countries is being spawned.  

The Faculty research enterprise is dynamic and fast growing. Our publications output is the highest at UCT.  We promote interdisciplinary research across our 13 departments through our 34 research groupings. UCT’s largest research entity at UCT, the Institute for Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM), is a postgraduate research enterprise that stands out in Africa through its ability to drive world-class research into high-burden diseases at the laboratory-clinic-community interface. 

In pursuit of our goals, we enjoy partnerships with communities, health services, colleagues and institutions across the country and the continent, and increasingly find synergies with the experiences of the global south. 


On the 6th of June 2012, the University of Cape Town celebrated 100 years since the medical school was established. The 6 June 1912 inaugural event had marked the birth of academic health sciences in Southern Africa. The School was due largely to the campaigning of Dr Barnard Fuller. 


It quickly outgrew its original Hiddingh Campus home to its current Observatory base, which saw the steady evolution of the medical school to a Health Sciences Faculty in the 1970s as well as a rapid expansion of its facilities, increase in the numbers of Chairs, Departments and Divisions, increase in student and staff numbers, and the growth of its research enterprise. 


The Faculty became known for its world class innovation, spearheaded by Dr Christiaan Barnard's pioneering heart transplant, research leading to the development of the first CAT scan and Zwarenstein’s frog test for pregnancy. 


Since 2000, the Faculty has expanded its research enterprise phenomenally, resulting in huge increases in research funding and a rising reputation for cutting edge research - R684m was generated in income from grants via 874 contracts in 2014, and increase of 23% from 2013. 

Timeline - Highlights from the oldest medical school in Southern Africa
History of our buildings - An article published by Prof Gonda Perez and Emeritus Prof David Dent.


Socio-political context

The Faculty was not untouched by its socio-political environment. Twenty years after graduating its first two physicians in 1922, and the first two female medical students two years later, the Faculty enrolled its first black medical students - in 1945, Ralph Lawrence, Cassim Saib and Maramoothoo Samy-Padiachy became the first black students to graduate with medical degrees from UCT. However, increasingly restrictive apartheid policies continued to limit access for black and coloured students. Those who managed to attend experienced discrimination, indignity and segregated clinical training. 

The Apartheid era spawned staff and student activism for social justice during the political repression of the 70s, 80s and early 90s.  An example was Head of Psychiatry Prof Frances Ames, who led a successful legal challenge against the South African Medical and Dental Council’s failure to discipline the so-called Biko doctors, who were complicit in circumstances leading to anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko’s death.

With the birth of democracy in 1994, the Faculty chose participation, inclusivity and social justice, which exemplify the primary healthcare (PHC) approach, as the lead theme to move away from the past injustices and exclusivity in health sciences education. In 1995, Prof Jeffrey Dumo Baqwa became the Faculty’s first African black appointment, as the first Professor of Primary Healthcare.

Since then, the Faculty has changed significantly, modernising its curriculum, transforming its demographics and substantially increasing its admissions. Teaching platforms have extended beyond the Cape Town Metro area to include rural clinical teaching sites in Vredenburg and George. Across the Faculty, many of our programmes are impacting national and global policy through advocacy for social justice in health for the poor, women, children, those with disabilities, the elderly and other vulnerable groups.

In terms of management, history was made with the appointment of its first Dean of colour, Prof Nicky Padayachee, followed by Prof Marion Jacobs who was also the first female dean. Since its establishment, the Faculty has had 13 Dean’s. It is currently managed by Dean Prof Bongani Mayosi who has made history as the first black African dean appointed in the Faculty.

In 2012, the Faculty celebrated its Centenary with a series of commemorative events highlighting its major contributions to health care and academic medicine over the years. See Centenary activities.


Culture and Diversity 

The Faculty values diversity in its student complement and seeks to admit a mix of students that properly reflects the ethnic and cultural diversity of the South African population. This supports the experiential approach to learning in the undergraduate training programmes for healthcare professionals. In a diverse student body, students' prior life experiences contribute to the educational process. It creates a practical learning context, laying a foundation for future practice in the South African context. Advancing diversity takes many forms: recruiting and retaining people from underrepresented groups, getting to the root of health care inequalities, and delivering health services to disadvantaged people, to name a few. 

Outside the classroom there are more than 100 student societies and organisations at UCT reflecting a wide range of interests, including academic, religious, cultural, social and political activities. Each society is run by students and any student may be a member. Here at FHS, 7 societies specific to the studies of health sciences students exist to encourage community engagement, peer mentorship, leadership grooming and professional growth. Our Surgical Society – the driving force behind the establishment of an international undergraduate surgical society focuses on improving the quality of undergraduate surgical training in Africa and beyond.

We are home to the Students' Health and Welfare Centres Organisation (SHAWCO), UCT's biggest student organisation. Founded by medical student Andrew Kienaar, what started as a one-man initiative in 1943, now harnesses the energies of some 2 000 volunteers in its health and education sectors. academic and social support to its membership. There are also students councils dedicated to voicing and engaging with undergraduate and postgraduate students needs.