"Being a doctor was my mom's dream" - trailblazer Dr Lungile Hobe


Becoming a doctor was Dr Lungile Hobe's way of giving back to her mother. Today, the young doctor has an impressive list of achievements and ambitious plans to improve the quality of healthcare in her rural community of Mseleni, where she grew up.

Dr Lungile Leslie Hobe (Mrs Nxumalo) is an impressive young doctor with big aspirations to improve the quality of healthcare in her community.

Dr Hobe grew up in Mseleni, Umkhanyakude, in the remote northern part of KwaZulu-Natal near the Mozambican border. Today, the 35-year-old is a medical officer at Mseleni Hospital, chair of the Rural Doctors Association of South Africa, an Umthombo Youth Development Foundation graduate and trustee, and a 2018 Discovery Foundation Rural Institutional Award recipient.

Dr Lungile Hobe, a graduate of Umthombo Youth Development Foundation and a young doctor to watch


In a podcast interview with Azania Mosaka, Dr Hobe shared her remarkable story and explained the impact her mother, a nurse, had on her life.

"Being a doctor was my mom's dream. What was really inspiring about my mom was that even though she was a rural girl, she had very high hopes, dreams and aspirations for her life. Going into medicine for me was a way of giving back to her."

Listen to the podcast:

Building up rural healthcare in Mseleni

Dr Hobe earned her MBChB degree from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 2006 and joined Mseleni Hospital in 2010. In 2018, she received a Discovery Foundation Rural Institutional Award to improve the quality of care at Mseleni Hospital, a 185-bed rural district hospital with 10 primary healthcare clinics that serves about 92 000 people.

Mseleni is more than a hospital, it's a community centre that takes care of its people. In 2004, Mseleni Hospital spearheaded the clinic-based initiation of antiretrovirals. It has developed specialist surgical services, built a strong network of clinics and community caregivers, and is involved in orphan care, youth projects, an early childhood development centre, and more.

"I hope to witness quality medical care being offered to rural communities," she says. "My idea is a model that goes beyond the hospital into the community. I think COVID-19 has made us realise this can be done with proper planning, infrastructure allocation and the will to do it."

Stepping into a new role during a pandemic

Since the COVID-19 pandemic reached South Africa, Dr Hobe's duties have shifted from being a doctor and seeing patients to managing the hospital.

"I am grateful for having had a medical manager who was very dedicated to her work. Before she left the hospital, she made sure that all the groundwork had been done to prepare the hospital for COVID-19," Dr Hobe says. "I have had to step up and act as medical manager while we await the appointment of a new manager. Even in this position, I feel I was properly prepared by the previous manager, which made a big difference."

"There is definitely a lot more work to be done, but I appreciate the medical team of Mseleni Hospital for always pulling together and supporting each other," she says. "I have a clinical manager who is very experienced; he is my sounding board and I value our chats a lot."

"Personally, of course, there's daily anxiety of possibly getting infected and this affects the interactions I have with my family," Dr Hobe adds. "But they have all been very supportive and for this I'm grateful, especially to my husband."

Passionate about women's health

Dr Hobe has paused her Master of Medicine (MMED) studies - on the barriers to breastfeeding in rural communities - for now. "My MMED hasn't been moving, but I trust God that it will happen soon," she says.

Yet she remains determined to improve rural healthcare for women. "I'm very passionate about women's health issues within the community. Women suffer a great deal from abuse in all forms: physical, sexual, financial and emotional."

She describes the problem: "According to the statistics for this district, most households are headed by women. There are high rates of poverty, HIV and malignancies like cervical cancer. I would love to start an NGO that would operate in this community to assist in addressing all these and, going beyond that, to include programmes for men, as they are part of the solution."

Dr Hobe recognises her mother's hand in everything she takes on. "My mom remained my role model over the years. She wasn't scared to discuss real-life issues with us in an era when sex talk was taboo. She is a gutsy lady and I always dreamed of being like her and making her proud."

We say thank you to Dr Lungile Hobe for her continued work on the front line in Mseleni.

Extra: Dr Hobe spoke to Daily Maverick in April 2020 about how rural healthcare workers are preparing for the COVID-19 pandemic.

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.

Learn more and apply for the 2020 Discovery Foundation Awards.

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