Discipline of Physiotherapy


welcome to Physiotherapy

The Department of Physiotherapy at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) is the only training centre for physiotherapists in the province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). The Department of Physiotherapy was established in 1964 at King Edward VIII (KEH) hospital between the old Natal Provincial Administration (NPA) and the University of Durban Westville (UDW), under the leadership of Prof Schultze, who was a Physical Medicine Specialist. He questioned the absence of non-white physiotherapists in the apartheid era and he proposed that KEH become the training centre for non-white physiotherapists. All non-white students were recruited from all of the four old South African provinces. They were to study for a National Diploma in physiotherapy and serve the whole country during this time. There were also students from Swaziland and Lesotho. Prof Schultze was the National Head of Department of Rehabilitation Medicine and Remedial Services in South Africa. He was a medical doctor based at KEH in charge of Training and ALL rehabilitation services (OT, PT Speech and Hearing etc) for the country. Miss Gwen Jones from England was the first head of department (HOD) of the school of physiotherapy and, of course, all lecturers were white at that time. Shiela Blackwood and Charles Liggins joined the school in 1968. Between 1964 and1973, a Diploma in Physiotherapy was offered. Student intake was small at this time, with about 12 students entering the programme each year.

In 1974, the first batch of BSc Physiotherapy students was enrolled for a degree programme. Mrs Margaret Rhode (an ex UKZN lecturer) was in the second batch of 12 students who were assisted by Prof Schultze in obtaining the NPA bursary. Only four of these students graduated in 1979. Miss Jones was HOD, followed by Mr Liggins interchangeably as he used to travel to the UK often. There were six Joint Health Establishment Posts between NPA and UDW.  The other lecturers were Professor Gounden, Miss Marilyn Ashby, Miss Anne Bandle and Mrs Gumede, who made headlines as the first Black lecturer to be appointed at UDW. This degree programme continued up until 1980. Anatomy, physiology and clinical sciences lecturers were done together with medical school students. In 1981, Thaya Nadasan (current UKZN senior lecturer) was in the first batch for the BPhysio degree (15 students), which is still continuing to date. Only four of these 15 students graduated in 1985. Anatomy, done together with the first batch of occupational therapy students, and physiology was done on Westville campus along with biology, physics, chemistry and psychology. All physiotherapy lectures, at that time, were still done in KEH. Miss Nadasan was appointed in the Joint Health Establishment post in 1988 to date. Clinical training started in the second year, taking place mainly at KEH, which had 2500 beds, with all clinical areas/blocks such as general surgery, medicine, ICU, respiratory unit run, outpatients and O&G. In addition, cardiology, neurology ICU and rehabilitation, paediatric neurology, hydrotherapy/outpatients were implemented at Wentworth hospital, Spes Nova and Workman’s Accident and Rehabilitation Centre (at St Augustine’s Hospital) respectively.

Profesor Gounden was made HOD in 1994 (when Charles Liggins retired) up until his own retirement in 2004. In 1998 BPhysio year-long courses were changed to the modular system and more UDW lecturer posts were created as the intake was increased to 40 students inclusive of those from disadvantaged backgrounds to increase health services to those really in need. Academic Development Programmes and Recognition of Prior Learning were also introduced. Mrs Gumede used to also relieve Prof Gounden as HOD at this time. In 1996 the physiotherapy department moved to Westville campus (E block), the year Profesor Puckree was appointed. In 2004 the University of Durban Westville and the University of Natal merged to form the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Disciplines were also arranged into schools and the department was initially included in the School of Physiotherapy, Sports Science and Optometry. Professor Puckree was made HOD in 2004 and the Head of School between 2005 and 2007. Dr Nadasan was nominated as HOD from 2005-2006, Dr Serela Ramklass was HOD in 2007 and Professor Sonill Maharaj was HOD from 2008-2015. In 2012, UKZN changed to a College Structure and the Department of Physiotherapy was then included as one of the eight disciplines in the School of Health Sciences, which in turn is one of the four Schools in the wider College of Health Sciences. In 2016, under the leadership of the current Dean of the School of Health Sciences, Profesor Mahmoud Soliman, Dr Nadasan was appointed as HOD, overseeing the initial preparation and implementation of the Decentralised Clinical Training Programme (DCTP).In 2018, Saul Cobbing, who joined the department in 2010, was appointed as HOD/Academic Leader. In 2020, physiotherapy in KZN will be celebrating 56 years in existence!

Over the past five years, the Department of Physiotherapy at UKZN has made significant progress in the areas of teaching, research and community engagement. In this time, four staff members have obtained PhD degrees with four other staff members currently completing their PhDs (we now have six staff members with PhDs). Five members have also completed their Masters degrees in this period, while three of our staff have been promoted to the level of Associate Professor (Professor Verusia Chetty, Professor Sonill Maharaj and Professor Saul Cobbing). Professor Chetty served as Academic Leader for Teaching and Learning for the School of Health Sciences between 2017 and 2020. Rogier van bever Donker, who joined the department in 2012, was appointed to the position of President of the South African Society of Physiotherapy in 2019. In addition to these achievements, more than 60 peer-reviewed articles have been written by our staff in the past five years. These current members of staff (in addition to those named above) are Dr Thaya Nadasan, Dr Hamilton Pharaoh, Dr Stacy Maddocks, Ms Nomzamo Chemane, Mr Sithermbiso Blose and Mr Kurt Daniels. These individuals demonstrate expertise in a wide range of teaching and research areas. It should also be noted that our departmental technician, Mr Levin Chetty, who has been with the department for twenty years, is also currently completing his PhD and has a growing research output himself.

This excellence in research is mirrored by the improvements we have made in the undergraduate curriculum, which reflects the department’s commitment to extensive community engagement and societal impact. This can most clearly be seen in the successful transition of the department’s clinical training from primarily urban institutions to the innovative and contextually-relevant Decentralised Clinical Training Programme (DCTP). This programme involves our fourth (final) year physiotherapy students completing four six-week clinical blocks at rural hospitals throughout KwaZulu-Natal.  In 2018, the department received full accreditation from the Health Professionals Council of South Africa for the next five years. More than half of our current students are from Quintile 1 and 2 schools, which represent the poorest 40% of school learners. Despite some of the academic and social difficulties these students continue to face, our department has consistently had throughput levels of above 90% in the past decade, producing students who are uniquely prepared to cope with the opportunities challenges presented by the South African public healthcare system.

The Department of Physiotherapy at UKZN is committed to advancing relevant health research and redressing the scarcity of healthcare professionals in the academic and healthcare sectors in the country, congruent with the imperatives of the National Departments of Education and Health. Of UKZN’s seven key goals, the two goals that are most applicable to our department are Goal 2, namely Responsible Community Engagement – through which we aim to contribute to the prosperity and sustainability of our province, and to nation-building, by connecting with and committing ourselves to the communities we serve in a manner that adds value and earns their respect, admiration and trust – as well as Goal 4, namely Excellence in Teaching and Learning, in which we aim to promote excellence in teaching and learning through creative and innovative curriculum design and development, pedagogical strategies, and assessment practices in accordance with the highest quality management principles. We aim to produce physiotherapists, who are reflective of the country’s demographic profile, and who are equipped with the knowledge, skills, professional ethics and attitudes to assist in achieving optimal health for all. We further aim to inspire our physiotherapy students to become expert practitioners throughout the whole continuum of health promotion, prevention, screening, diagnosis and treatment in the spirit of Ubuntu and in alignment with the Batho Pele (People First) principles.