Andrew John Ross

Ashoka Fellow
South Africa,
Fellow Since 2014
Umthombo Youth


This profile was prepared when Andrew John Ross was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2014.
The New Idea
Andrew, a general practitioner working as a hospital supervisor in the rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal province, was confronted with the critical shortage of medical professionals in rural South Africa when he needed to staff his team. Andrew’s insight is that people from rural areas are better positioned to serve their communities, especially in the medical field, due their inherent understanding of societal dynamics and their existing sense of connection to place. However, most youth in rural areas lack education and employment opportunities and this denies them permission to dream big and pursue a medical career. In order to address this, Andrew developed a program that recruits young people in rural areas and exposes them to higher education training and employment opportunities in the medical and health-related fields. Through a comprehensive selection process, interested and passionate young people are selected into the program and are offered full scholarships through university and assisted with placement in rural hospitals upon graduation.

Andrew works to enhance the participants’ confidence and strong connection to their communities through mentorship and community service programs run by his organization, Umthombo Youth Development Foundation (UYDF). Andrew’s objective is to develop homebred young medical professionals who embrace their careers as a calling to serve their communities rather than just a source of income. UYDF has established close relationships with local hospitals to assist with student selection and most significantly to allow students to work at the hospital during the holidays and offer employment after graduation. Since its formation, the scholarship program has been a source of hope for rural scholars and given them something to aim towards. It has also created role models for young people still in school. Students at local schools can see and talk to other scholars who went to similar schools and have succeeded in their professional lives. This enables those students still in school to dream that they too might become health care professionals in the future.

To date, Andrew has trained and retained 185 health professionals in 13 different hospitals in the rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape, who have all completed full medical, or health-related higher-education training and practice (residency). Currently, 200 students are supported every year in 16 health disciplines. Andrew is now planning to scale out to other provinces in South Africa facing similar problems. By 2016, he plans to increase the intake to manage about 250 youth per cycle in the program. Furthermore, Andrew seeks to share the model with provincial Departments of Health and influence them to adopt what he considers to be the “critical aspects” of the program. It is hoped that this sharing of information will influence the provincial Department of Health’s policies on selection and support of rural students and will lead to greater throughput of rural students and greater work back compliance – both of which will contribute to addressing the shortages of staff at rural hospitals. In addition UYDF has been able to incorporate government-subsidized student loans as scholarship offers for rural students and hopes to expand this at a national scale. He is also creating new post-graduate training programs that ensure ongoing professional development as a way to improve the quality of the service but also to ensure high retention rates of medical professionals in rural areas.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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