Aspiring neurosurgeon with big dreams of helping his community


A young doctor to watch: Dumisani Mthembu, a sixth-year medical student at the University of Pretoria, hopes to specialise in neurosurgery, particularly paediatric neurosurgery, once he completes his Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery degree.

“I chose neurosurgery because of my love for the explanation of why people make certain decisions,” says Dumisani Mthembu, a 23-year-old medical student at the University of Pretoria and 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:

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.”

Dumisani Mthembu, Umthombo Youth Development Foundation scholar and future doctor to watch.

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. And, of course, the question of when to go back to Pretoria to finish my studies.” 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.”

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.

Related articles

Celebrating our #HealthHeroes: Umthombo nursing graduates make a big difference in society

This International Nurses Day, we celebrate two of Umthombo Youth Development Foundation’s nursing graduates who are making a difference in their community: Nobuhle Menyuka, nurse and role model, and Zamani Dlamini, a leader in the fight against TB.

Umthombo students overcome great odds to become healthcare professionals

Helping students from rural KwaZulu-Natal qualify as healthcare professionals is about more than providing scholarships. At Umthombo, dedicated mentors empower students to overcome challenges, build resilience and take care of their mental health.

Building a community of healthcare workers one student at a time

Like any hero's journey, the Umthombo Youth Development Foundation faced many challenges in its quest to create a community of healthcare workers. Read this inspiring story of a community investing in each other to reshape the future of rural healthcare.

Log in

Please click here to login into Discovery Digital Id

Please click here to login into Discovery Digital Id