Dr Phelelani Dludla, a medical officer at Benedictine District Hospital in rural KwaZulu-Natal, is passionate about the mental wellbeing of his patients and improving healthcare in his community. His keen sense of purpose makes him a young doctor to watch.
Dr Phelelani Dludla, medical officer and GP at Benedictine District Hospital, has led a challenging but inspiring life. It’s hard to believe he’s only 34 years old.
“I grew up in Dondotha, KwesaKwaMthethwa, where I was raised by my maternal grandmother. Later, in 2002, I met my father’s second wife and my brother and sister, who lived in Manguzi in the eNgutshana area.”
Dr Dludla moved to Manguzi, a rural community in Umkhanyakude District Municipality that’s also home to the Umthombo Youth Development Foundation, to live with his family on his father’s side.
Challenging childhood fuels his resolve to do good
Dr Dludla says resources were scarce while he was growing up in rural KwaZulu-Natal. “My financially challenging childhood became the fuel for wanting to do better for the benefit of my family. I became determined to be in a career where you could make a difference in people’s lives every day.”
Despite many hardships, today Dr Dludla is a GP with a special interest in psychiatry and gynaecology. But before he became a doctor, he obtained a BSc and BSc Honours degree in microbiology at the University of Zululand in 2007 and 2009.
Principal steps in to nurture his love of learning
“My early university life in microbiology was made possible by my high school principal, Mr Norman Mpanza, who had taken me and my late brother in,” Dr Dludla recalls.
“In 2003, he helped us enrol at varsity. We lost my brother later that year. Mr Mpanza continued to support my educational journey between 2003 and 2012, and remains a father figure in my life.”
Childhood loss inspires passion for medicine
“The passing of my mother from a stroke made me curious about diseases and how to prevent or treat them,” Dr Dludla shares. “It became a thought at the back of my mind, and later it was the only thing I wanted to do.”
In 2008, he started studying medicine at Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. “I came across Umthombo Youth Development Foundation in 2009 while doing my second year in medicine,” Dr Dludla explains.
When he lost his sponsor that year, Umthombo stepped in to help, and in 2012, he graduated with his MBChB. A dedicated life-long learner, Dr Dludla is studying again this year, this time pursuing a diploma in psychiatry.
Restoring mental wellbeing and dignity
He did his community service from September 2015 to September 2016 at Manguzi Hospital and has worked in rural hospitals ever since. “In staying at rural hospitals, I hope to gain experience in continued mental healthcare and to offer services that are hard to come by due to absent private psychiatric facilities,” he explains.
He joined Benedictine District Hospital in 2016. The 363-bed hospital serves the population of Nongoma and surrounding rural communities of Zululand. He runs a gynaecology clinic for the prevention cancer of the cervix and is also responsible for psychiatric and mental health services to the community.
“It’s challenging to provide this service in the rural areas due to limited support,” he says of his mental health work. “It involves working on restoring mental wellbeing and dignity to clients and families who suffer from a mental health condition. I also assist in integrating mental health patients back into communities.”
Inspiring young people to dream
Dr Dludla says being a role model in his community and inspiring young people to aim for greatness is “an everyday business” for him. “I hope to influence more people in the rural areas to dream of changing their lives,” he says, “and to improve the community’s belief in education.”
His motto? “We must become heroes in our own life stories.”
Dr Dludla looks to the future of rural healthcare. “I hope we can take up the challenges and turn them into opportunities to solve problems in healthcare in a constructive manner, manage skills shortage and budget constraints, do our best to provide good quality service, and help to improve the mental wellbeing of our patients as well as the staff members,” he concludes.
We say thank you to Dr Phelelani Dludla for his continued work on the front line in rural KwaZulu-Natal.
About the Discovery Foundation
Each year, the Discovery Foundation gives five different awards to outstanding individual and institutional awardees in the public healthcare sector.
The Discovery Foundation is an independent trust with a clear focus to strengthen the healthcare system by making sure that more people have access to specialised healthcare services.
Since 2006, the Discovery Foundation has invested more than R230 million in training and support for more than 400 medical specialists and institutions. The grants support academic research and clinical science, sub-specialist training, rural medicine as well as programmes to develop public healthcare resources. For 2019, Discovery Foundation awarded 42 grants to medical specialists working in South Africa’s healthcare sector to the value of R27 million.
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