New appointment - Head of Division: Chemical Pathology

14 Sep 2023
A/Prof Rivak Punchoo HODiv Chemical Pathology
14 Sep 2023

Dear Staff and Student Colleagues 

I would like to extend a warm welcome to Associate Professor Rivak Punchoo who has recently been appointed as Head of Division: Chemical Pathology, as of 1 October 2023. Associate Professor Punchoo is an experienced health professional, academic and researcher. I wish him continued success in this role and look forward to working alongside him.

Rivak Punchoo is a consultant chemical pathologist, having trained and worked in the Gauteng province in South Africa. He completed his undergraduate medical degree at the University of Natal (now University of KwaZulu-Natal) and his specialist chemical pathology training at the Johannesburg General Hospital (now Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital) and Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital registrar training sites and the University of Witwatersrand.

Additionally, he has worked as a pathologist at a private laboratory in Sandton and as a joint staff member (pathologist and academic) at the University of Pretoria and the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS). 

Rivak's pre-medical studies included a first-class BSc (Hons) degree in cellular biology, which laid a strong foundation for his current primary research theme in cancer biology. He founded the Vitamin D Cancer Research Group in 2019, enrolled post-graduate health science students in research projects exploring this theme, and funded the projects with national grants. His current research focuses on the cellular mechanisms of the anti-cancer actions of the vitamin D metabolome at the autocrine level in cervical cancer. He has also newly forayed into clinical science translational research by exploring the relationship of vitamin D status in patients with pre-malignant cervical intraepithelial neoplasia. This latter study has formed a component of his PhD, which is currently in the final stage of being submitted for examination by thesis publication. 
A new area of research in which Rivak has been engaged during the last two years is evaluating machine learning artificial intelligence algorithms to analyse and interpret chemical pathology image-based tests. He aims to use machine learning algorithms to improve the total testing process, particularly the onerous post-analytical phase of interpreting laboratory-based gel images from electrophoretic testing in the chemical pathology laboratory.  
Rivak has formally informed his praxis of teaching and assessing undergraduate and post-graduate medical students by completing the Sub-Saharan Africa-FAIMER Regional Institute (SAFRI) Fellowship and the post-graduate Diploma in Health Professions Education (Keele University). He utilises basic tenets of health education to guide constructive alignment between teaching and assessing undergraduate chemical pathology students, scaffolding teaching work plans, and vertically mapping chemical pathology teaching framed by the medical curriculum and its core competencies. He acknowledges a sound evidence-based remediation methodology to support undergraduate medical students challenged by case-based assessments in chemical pathology. Rivak has piloted the first registrar ECHO™ programme for the NHLS in chemical pathology and continues his involvement in this programme as Lead ECHO champion. In addition, he is currently exploring the development of the workplace-based assessment (WBA) initiative by the Colleges of Medicine South Africa to improve registrar training. He chairs the NHLS WBA Sub-committee of the Chemistry Expert Committee to develop a WBA programme and pilot a pop-up national WBA study in chemical pathology. 
Rivak is enthusiastic about joining the Department of Pathology at the University of Cape Town and hopes to contribute positively to its vibrant research community and enhance the teaching and assessment of chemical pathology at undergraduate and post-graduate levels. Additionally, he is keen to explore the area of dynamic function testing in endocrinology and fortify sound laboratory testing practice. 

I have no doubt that Rivak will make a valuable contribution to our community, I wish him well and hope that he encounters success and fulfilment on this journey. 
Kaise ke gangans
Associate Professor Lionel Green-Thompson
Dean: Faculty of Health Sciences