8 young doctors to watch: The future of rural healthcare is in good hands


This Youth Month, we celebrate Umthombo Youth Development Foundation scholars who are determined to improve rural healthcare in their communities. From GPs and dentists to aspiring neurosurgeons and more, these young leaders are the ones to watch.

For almost 20 years, the Discovery Fund has been a proud supporter of the Umthombo Youth Development Foundation. To date, Umthombo has had 428 graduates across 18 health science disciplines, and continues to support around 250 students every year.

Today, we celebrate the young doctors and medical students of the future – Umthombo scholars that are determined to change the face of rural healthcare.

These are their stories.

Dr Lungile Hobe: Advocate for women’s health

Dr Lungile Hobe is a medical officer at Mseleni Hospital in rural KwaZulu-Natal. She’s passionate about women’s health, improving rural healthcare, and making her mother proud.

“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.”

Dr Mfanukhona Nyawo strives to uplift the youth of Manyiseni

Dr Mfanukhona Nyawo is determined to help young people in his community achieve the same heights as he had.

We don’t choose to be role models, but our behaviour and actions, for example making other people successful, influence how people see you. My goal is seeing young people getting the same opportunities as me, if not better.”

Dr Phelelani Dludla: “We must become heroes of our own life stories”

Dr Phelelani Dludla, a medical officer at Benedictine District Hospital in rural KwaZulu-Natal, is currently studying psychiatry to help his community more.

“It’s challenging to provide this service in the rural areas due to limited support. 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.”

Dr Sabelo Mngomezulu: Filling a dire need for dental services

Dentist Dr Sabelo Mngomezulu strives to improve the quality of life of the people of Ingwavuma, KwaZulu-Natal.

“I chose dentistry because during the weeks I spent observing different disciplines at Mosvold Hospital, I realised that there was a huge gap in oral hygiene care. There was little if anything that was done at the hospital to cater for oral health and the community was not informed about oral hygiene.”

Simphiwe Phungula: Fifth-year medical student set to take the world by storm

Simphiwe Phungula is a future leader who wants to raise more awareness on sexual health in her community.

“Talking about reproductive and sexual health is almost taboo in our communities. This allows avoidable conditions, such as unwanted pregnancy, cervical cancer and HIV, to continue. It all starts with awareness, like making sure all women know that they should regularly do Pap smears to screen for cervical cancer.”

Dumisani Mthembu: Aspiring neurosurgeon with big dreams of helping his community

Dumisani Mthembu aspires to specialising in neurosurgery, particularly paediatric neurosurgery, once he completes his Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery degree.

“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. 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.”

Nokwanda Mathonsi: “We understand our communities better than anyone else”

Nokwanda Mathonsi aspires to transforming rural healthcare, particularly for women.

“I want to raise more health awareness among the women in my community. Women are the ones taking care of everyone and everything. In that process, they tend to neglect paying attention to themselves. If they have a health condition, they usually take it lightly and delay coming in for a consult because they are busy.”

Mxolisi Xulu: “I wish to see rural youth taking up space on earth”

Mxolisi Xulu wants to inspire young people to follow their dreams.

“Nothing motivates me like imagining the lives of the youth I could change. I wish to see rural youth taking up space on earth. In 2018, I started a registered NGO called Black Child’s Dreams Matter where we promote a culture of learning and make learners aware of different careers and universities. Moreover, we are restoring dignity and liberation to poor rural learners through career expos, school visits and winter schools.”

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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