Community service in Cape Town

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The Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital is a sought-after Cape Town community service post. The hospital was built in 1956, and has developed a reputation for world-renowned paediatric treatment, care, research and specialist training. It is a tertiary hospital as well as a teaching hospital for the University of Cape Town (UCT).  If you are studying an undergraduate course at UCT you are likely to attend a few clinics at this hospital for training purposes.

The fact that it is a tertiary hospital allows you to see a variety of cases varying in severity. This, of course, makes it a particularly great place to learn in and work at if you are interested in paediatrics. At the same time this is a limitation, because if placed here as a therapist, you will naturally only gain knowledge and experience in paediatrics, however diverse the case load may be. I asked Amy van der Merwe, one of the 2016 community service speech therapists to share some of her experiences at Red Cross and what you could expect should you be one of the lucky ones to get a post here.

Staff: For the year of 2016 there were four permanent staff members and one community service speech therapist. It is important to note that this can change from year to year. For example, in 2015 there were two community service posts and fewer in the year before that. Red Cross hosts one of the largest speech therapy departments in the public sector in the Western Cape, second only to Groote Schuur Hospital.

Patients are referred to the hospital from across the Southern African region. A majority of the case load consists of children under the age of 1. Due to the high case-load children of school-going age are often referred out to Groote Schuur or nearby clinics, if those facilities have the services they require.

Amy expressed that her experience at Red Cross was similar to that of other government posts and that she worked closely within a multi-disciplinary team including occupational therapists, dieticians, physiotherapists, social workers and doctors.

Work experience:  Due to the extensive team of specialists available at Red Cross, the responsibilities are generally shared. Some may primarily see in-patients, while others consult only out-patients, or a mixture of both. Amy worked with both in-patients and out-patients, often within the multi-disciplinary context. Her particular responsibilities included:

  • Facilitating and managing language groups for children aged 4 to 7, targeting vocabulary, grammar, and pre-literacy skills.
  • Facilitating and managing a Functional Communication Group for parents of children with severe developmental disabilities. This group trains parents in home language stimulation, as well as providing a platform to discuss their difficulties, successes, and ideas with regards to their child’s progress.
  • Working in a Multi-disciplinary Rehabilitation Clinic on a team with a physiotherapist and occupational therapist. This clinic aims to provide holistic rehabilitation for children with severe developmental disabilities, as well as parent training and home programmes.

In addition to the above clinical responsibilities, she had to attend meetings, ward rounds and manage resources and appointments.

She reported that while her case load was diverse, she predominantly worked with children with language delays and disorders, global developmental delays, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Early Childhood Intervention, Dysphagia, Cerebral Palsy, and seizure disorders.

Overview (of Amy’s experience): “I have learned so much during this year at Red Cross Children’s Hospital. I have grown in patience, skill, and empathy. Some of the challenges are coming to terms with the reality of severely impaired children; and working with children with behavioural difficulties. Sufficient and consistent input from parents is an additional challenge, especially considering most parents had little time or resources to assist in their child’s development. I have enjoyed dysphagia and language most this year, and I would love to gain more experience in literacy and learning.”


Written by Tamlyn Loubscher, Speech Language Pathologist


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