Future #HealthcareHeroes: Aspiring neurosurgeon Dumisani Mthembu has big dreams of helping his community

Dumisani Mthembu, a sixth-year medical student at the University of Pretoria, aspires to specialise in neurosurgery, particularly paediatric neurosurgery, once he completes his Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery degree. But how is the 23-year-old coping with COVID-19?

“I chose neurosurgery because of my love for the explanation of why people make certain decisions,” says Dumisani, an Umthombo Youth Development Foundation scholar.

“I’ve always wondered how different brains with a similar anatomical structure can think of making opposing decisions. The biggest question has been: With the good preventive medical practices that we have now, can we do better to keep people’s brains functioning properly?”


Listen to Dumisani Mthembu’s podcast with Azania Mosaka: Episode 12, part 3


Childhood hardships inspire a love for medicine

Dumisani was the first in his family to go to university. “I come from Egazini, a small village in Umhlabuyalingana district municipality in Northern KwaZulu-Natal, a few kilometres away from the South African-Mozambican border,” he explains. “My parents couldn’t read or write. The village didn’t have roads, water, electricity or any other facilities. The schools I attended did not have computers, science laboratories and more. My class was the third matric group after the school opened, and we had no mathematics teacher in matric. A further blow was when they took away our isiZulu teacher when we were in matric.”

From a young age, Dumisani had a soft spot for people with illnesses. “My career choice was shaped by my response towards any sick person. I would carry them. Give them food. Give them any medicine I knew and go as far as giving them my clothes if they had fever. My sister, Bonisiwe, identified that trait and together we chose the medical profession. I am eternally grateful to her!”


Giving back to his community

Dumisani applied for a scholarship from the Umthombo Youth Development Foundation in 2014 and was accepted into the programme in 2015. He hopes to be a role model for young people in his community.

“I was personally inspired by men of integrity who walked their talks and defied the odds. I also have to be a man of integrity who will uplift our young men to rise above the tide of corruption, drugs and immorality,” he says.

“My community has a lot of unresolved behavioural issues, from alcoholism to teenage pregnancy. These further exacerbate the levels of crime and poverty in our society,” Dumisani explains. “A deeper understanding of the brain anatomy

and physiology will give me the upper hand to summon the professionals in the field, like social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists, so we can eventually uproot the problem. As a long-term dream, I would like to open a sanatorium that will cater for rural people’s needs.”

“I really hope to become a decent father with a peaceful family. I hope to practise as a neurosurgeon and give back to my people through a sanatorium and an orphanage,” he says.

“I hope, one day, we will teach every household how to take care of their health to prevent unnecessary sickness and death. It would be nice to have a health professional in each village to help when their expertise is needed.”

Studying to become a doctor during COVID-19

Coronavirus disease 2019 reached South Africa just as Dumisani went into his sixth year at the University of Pretoria. “I can’t stress much about things I cannot change,” he says. “I’m in my village with my few family members, sharing words of encouragement during these trying times.”

“I spend my time reading my schools books and spiritual books, doing gardening and caring for the people close to me,” he adds. “Gardening has a lot to offer, from emotional therapy to physical benefits through exercise and eating the veggies for good immunity.”

The challenges of trying to study during a pandemic? “Having no data for research and study. Some food shortages here and there.” Dumisani keeps busy by praying, reading and doing good deeds. “The emotional and financial support from Umthombo has brought a lot of relief and hope,” he adds.


What does it mean to be a doctor?

“To be a doctor, you need to be a person of good morals and you must have integrity. Trustworthiness, sympathy, love and care are also part of the package. You need stamina to cope with the physical demands of the profession. The sacred relationship between you and your patients demands that you do all you can to maintain it. These good people will afford you the privilege of listening to the deepest secrets in their lives,” he says.

“It comes with a huge responsibility. Doctors are among the most trusted professionals in the world. Our words, our signatures and more are respected in the land. I have to make sure I don’t abuse such a privilege. I must be faithful at all times, working with due diligence for the good of our people. I will uphold the principles of safer medical practice.”


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