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#STEMStories: Dr. Thandeka, Medical doctor, South Africa

Name: Dr. Thandeka Ngcobo

Role/Occupation: Medical doctor

Country: South Africa

Age: 25 years old 

Dr. Thandeka Ngcobo is a medical doctor currently employed by the Department of Health, completing the final year of her medical internship at Mafikeng Provincial Hospital in the North West province. Ngcobo matriculated from Umlazi Comprehensive Technical High School and was subsequently accepted at the University of KwaZulu Natal, Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine where she graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB). 

During her two year internship, Ngcobo has been rotated to all the major departments within the hospital and thus has worked not only in general medical wards, but also in the paediatrics and neonatal wards, psychiatric wards, surgical wards, trauma and emergency area and presently at the obstetrics and gynaecology ward. Her tasks entail managing acute and chronic diseases in both outpatients and inpatients as well as assisting and performing various surgical procedures. After years of training, Ngcobo realised that her “primary role was not to necessarily prevent death but to improve the quality of life.”  

As a young girl, Ngcobo always aspired to be a doctor. However her journey to realising her dream was not without obstacles. Whilst in high school she had to pursue a tough course called ‘double science’ which involved a combination of Physical Science, Life Science and Mathematics amongst other subjects.  However just before her final matric exams, she discovered that she was pregnant. Despite the shock, she preserved and work hard and was not only able to pass Grade 12, but also obtained 6 As and one B and became one of the top 10 matriculants in the Ethekwini District. Being a teenage mother while pursuing her medical degree was challenging,  “as the years went by I thought of quitting and pursuing another career but my love for humanity kept me in the medical field. I knew that this was my calling and that the world needs me,” she recalls. Ngcobo works long hard hours as South African public hospitals are usually very busy, but her “love for humanity and helping those in need motivates [her] to get out of bed every morning.

Nothing is as heart warming as seeing [a] patient who came in being pushed in, and [seeing] them walking out of the ward, the happiness in a mother’s face who comes in with a lethargic baby and few minutes after resuscitation she sees her actively playing baby or the joy in mother who hears the first cry of her baby and they softly utter ‘thank you doctor’,” she explains.  

Ngcobo says the happiest day of her life was the day she found out that she completed all the requirements for her degree, “I actually cried that day, my dream had come true, all my sleepless nights and hard work had paid off and I was ready to serve Africa diligently,” she recalls. Another golden moment in her career was her graduation day which was attended by her parents, “I was happy that they were there to witness the fruits of their labor, that though they never got the chance to study but they were able to attend a graduation ceremony.” The next milestone in her career is becoming a specialist in her desired speciality, Paediatrics.  

She describes her experience as a woman in the STEM space as having been exciting yet challenging, “as women in science we almost always have to prove our capability and skills despite having gone through the same training as our male colleagues. I actually love the challenge though because it makes me what to do more and do better at all times,” she elaborates. Her advice to young women aspiring to enter the STEM field is to choose a career that they are passionate about and not one that they’ve been pressurised into, “when you follow your passion then it does not matter how long it takes you to get there or the challenges you may come across, you will never give up,” she explains. She also shares some knowledge with regards to facing obstacles and hurdles on your career path,  “a wise man once said that calm oceans never make skilful sailors. So do expect some storms but always remember that the storm will pass and you are being prepared for the journey ahead.” 

Ngcobo firmly believes that Africa is a land of opportunity but points out that Africans must always remember that they have the ability to break and make Africa, “our dreams and innovations will bring about growth in our continent… We must be the change we want to see and always strive for excellence,” she elaborates. 

Read more about Geeky Girl, Thandeka Ngcobo, not just a medical doctor but also a doctor for the soul with her perseverance and passion for the field, in the inspiring interview below. 

1. Describe what your work entails.  

I am currently an employee of the Department of Health. I’m in my second year of my medical internship at Mafikeng Provincial Hospital in the North West province. After 6 years of training, going into the field meant that my primary role was not to necessarily prevent death but to improve the quality of life. Since this is my second year of working and almost at the end of it, I have rotated in all the major departments at our hospital. I have worked in the general medical wards, paediatrics and neonatal wards, psychiatric wards, surgical wards, trauma and emergency area and currently working in obstetrics and gynaecology. My work entails managing acute and chronic diseases in both outpatients and inpatients. I do ward rounds daily in the ward to ensure that our inpatients are properly managed, treated and discharge them when they are fit. I also assist and perform various surgical procedures in each department that I rotate in.  

2. Describe your STEM journey. 

Growing up I always knew that I wanted to be a doctor. I matriculated in 2010 at Umlazi Comprehensive Technical High School and I was accepted at the University of KwaZulu Natal, Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine where I studied Medicine. Six years later I graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB) Pursuing a career in Science was not an easy journey for me. In High School I had to choose a package known as double science where I had to do Physical Sciences and Life Sciences combined with Mathematics amongst other subjects. In my matric year I fell pregnant and discovered about the pregnancy just before my final exams. However, because I had always been a hard worker I managed to pass my Grade 12, obtained 6 As and one B, managed to become one of the top 10 matriculants at Ethekwini District. Becoming a teenage mother who was not willing to give up on her dreams was challenging. I had my baby during my first year at University. Difficult as it was I managed to pass my first year. Medical school is no playground. As the years went by I thought of quitting and pursuing another career but my love for humanity kept me in the medical field. I knew that this was my calling and that the world needs me.  

3. What excites you about your job? What motivates you to get out of bed every morning?  

Firstly I must admit that my job is a lot of work. We work long hours and South African public hospitals are usually very busy, more than often I have to wake up the following morning still tired from the previous day but the thought of my patients, knowing that they are waiting for their doctor motivates me to look forward to each day. My love for humanity and helping those in need motivates me to get out of bed every morning. Nothing is as heart warming as seeing your patient who came in being pushed in, and you see them walking out of the ward, the happiness in a mother’s face who comes in with a lethargic baby and few minutes after resuscitation she sees her actively playing baby or the joy in mother who hears the first cry of her baby and they softly utter “thank you doctor”  

4. How would you describe your experience as a woman in the STEM space? 

My experience as a woman who chose a career in science has been an exciting yet challenging one. It is no secret that not so long ago most careers in science were male denominated and as a matter of fact in most parts of the world, patients still prefer consulting a male doctor and in some parts of the world female doctors are less recognized. As women in science we almost always have to prove our capability and skills despite having gone through the same training as our male colleagues. I actually love the challenge though because it makes me what to do more and do better at all times.  

5. What advice would you give to young women aspiring to enter the STEM field? 

It’s always important to choose a career which you are passionate about and not a career your family or friends love. When you follow your passion then it does not matter how long it takes you to get there or the challenges you may come across, you will never give up. A wise man once said that calm oceans never make skilful sailors. So do expect some storms but always remember that the storm will pass and you are being prepared for the journey ahead.  

6. As a STEM woman in Africa, how do you foresee the growth and progress of STEM on the continent? Is Africa a “land of opportunity”? 

Yes, Africa is a land of opportunity but we as Africans must always remember that we have the ability to break and make Africa. Our dreams and innovations will bring about growth in our continent so we should never stop dreaming and coming up with new ideas.  We must be the change we want to see and always strive for excellence.  

7. Have there been any milestone moments or eureka moments in your career? 

Yes, the day I logged into student central to view my marks and read the words “Degree completed” was one of the happiest days of my life. I actually cried that day, my dream had come true, all my sleepless nights and hard work had paid off and I was ready to serve Africa diligently. When graduation day finally came, that day was for my parents, I was happy that they were there to witness the fruits of their labor, that though they never got the chance to study but they were able to attend a graduation ceremony. The next milestone I’m looking forward to is becoming a specialist in my desired speciality which is Paediatrics.  

8. How do you maintain a work-life balance? 

When I am at work I always give my best and in my spare time I always ensure that I enjoy that time away from work and engage in activities which make me happy. Spending quality time with my family is important to me as it recharges my soul. I’m also very passionate about community development so outside of work I also partake in various community projects. I must admit though that finding the balance between work and life is not easy as most of my time goes into my work. I sometimes have to miss family gatherings and can’t always attend my daughter’s school functions but I’m lucky to have a family who’s supportive and understand the nature of my work.  

9. Who is your role model? Who inspires you? 

My first role model is my mother. She’s the most intelligent and strong woman that I know and I’m so fortunate to have been raised by her. The one person who inspires me is Dr Thandeka Mazibuko. She’s the founder of Sinomusanothando Community Development. Born and raised in the deep rural KZN, her main area of focus is in oncology. She believes that Africa united can fight and beat cancer. She fought tooth and nail to ensure that she improves the quality of life of our cancer patients especially in KZN, it wasn’t an easy journey for her but she never gave up and few years ago she relocated to New York to sharpen her skills and gain more knowledge. I was privileged to work with her as a volunteer in her organization during some of my years as a medical student. I’m still inspired by her till today and she is doing marvellous things in New York. I am looking forward to the day when she will return to South Africa to help us against fighting cancer.  

10. Where can more information or insight into your work be found? 

On my Facebook page - Dr. Thandeka Ngcobo, on my instagram @dr_teedkfuze or on the organizations I work with, mainly Godisanang Youth Empowering Foundation and Ngcobo Empire 

Twitter Handle: @DrTeedkfuze

Instagram: @dr_teedkfuze

LinkedIn: Dr. Thandeka Ngcobo 

Thandeka Ngcobo  interviewed by Dhruti Dheda

Dhruti Dheda is a Chemical Engineer with a strong interest in media and communication. She is the editor of the Engineers without Borders South Africa Newsletter and the Community Manager – South Africa and Regional Outreach for Geeky Girl Reality. If you wish to collaborate or network, contact her at dhruti@geekyreality.com or find her on twitter @dhrutidd