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24 November 2020 | Story Andre Damons
Prof Gert van Zyl, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, presented a copy of the book to Prof Francis Petersen, UFS Rector and Vice-Chancellor.

Looking at the history and highlights of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of the Free State (UFS) you will find a golden thread of innovation running throughout. The faculty has not been afraid of the unknown and its focus has always been on patients and quality academic education.

This is according to Prof Gert van Zyl, Dean of the faculty, who gave an overview at the virtual launch of the book: The History of the Faculty of Health Sciences: 2004 – 2020 on Tuesday (17 October 2020). Prof Johan Diedericks, Emeritus Professor in the Dean’s office, is the author of the book.

This book launch was part of the faculty’s 50-year anniversary celebrations.

A two-year journey

Prof Diedericks said the journey to materialising the book started two years ago when Prof Van Zyl “coaxed” him into compiling it. “At that stage I was writing the history of the Department of Anesthesiology and still had a 6/8 clinical appointment which meant I only had one day a week free to work on the book.

“But it was time well-spent. It started off with reading a lot of minutes and annual reports but at the same, time I requested and begged (but did not threaten) the departments for information. That was quite difficult. Several people assisted me in getting the information but the material came in slowly” said Prof Diedericks.

There was also cooperation from all the heads of schools who eventually made sure he got the information he needed. He wrote some of the sections himself and also edited and re-wrote parts of the information he received to ensure everything is the same format.

The book consists of eight chapters and five appendices with graphs and statistics. Chapter one is an overview of the changes since 2004 the present day and chapter two is about the office of the dean followed by the five schools in the faculty and all the departments within the schools.  The last chapter has information on other sections such as the Frik Scott Medical Library, National Health Laboratory Service, the SA Doping Control Laboratory (SADoCoL) and student organisations.

Faculty highlights

Prof Van Zyl said he was sure the experiences learnt from the past 50 years had prepared the faculty to survive 2020 – the year of COVID-19. In his overview, he spoke about the human contribution.

“The human contribution is the mortar between the bricks of this faculty, our staff and students not just today, but over 50 years. Looking at the history of the faculty and reflecting back, it was built by the collective and individual efforts of women and men in the faculty to ensure that each and every step is taken with integrity and quality to take us forward.”

He said he hopes this history will not only offer adequate information to appreciate the huge contribution that members of the Faculty of Health Sciences, the university community, and the entire Free State had made in health over the past 50 years.

Re-inventing yourself 

Prof Francis Petersen, UFS Rector and Vice-Chancellor, who received a copy of the book from Prof van Zyl, had a message to every one attending the virtual event: “If you don’t understand your history, where you come from, it is very difficult to know where you are going.

“In a learning environment such as the university, we always have to renew ourselves and you can renew yourself through what is happening in your current environment, through what happened in your history and also through what is happening in innovation going forward. I think that is the message captured in this book.

“There are various re-inventions that happened over this period and we should continue with that going forward as members of the faculty, as students, and as alumni of the faculty. The faculty can even go far beyond where it is at the moment. But we must remember we are standing on the shoulders of individuals who made major contributions, not only to the faculty, but to the province, to the country and internationally. We have a duty and responsibility to build on that and I know the faculty is doing that,” concluded Prof Petersen.

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