Inspired by his family's local GP, Dr Omolemo Kitchin went on to study a super-specialised field within respiratory medicine that deals with children's lung diseases. We caught up with this gifted professional to learn more about him.
"Being a role model is the most powerful form of educating," famed basketball coach John Wooden once said. This is a lesson well learned by Dr Omolemo Kitchin, one of just 30 registered paediatric pulmonologists in the country.
"The example set by our local GP as a boy drove me to become a doctor"
"As a young boy, I was inspired to pursue a career in medicine by Dr Mokgoro, our family doctor - and one of the very first black GPs practicing in Mahikeng," Dr Kitchin relates. "He is a decent and honourable man, and is held in very high esteem in our community. I used to watch him helping people and think - I want to be like that! Over the years he's been a mentor to me, following my progress in med school and encouraging me."
His experience is backed by research: behavioural research has shown that having a positive, relatable role model can substantially impact young people's interest in applying to university, and is particularly effective at encouraging those from disadvantaged backgrounds to aim high. Dr Kitchin adds, "I believe that if we ever want to gain ground on the shortage of doctors and other skilled professionals in this country, we need to expose more kids to role models like Dr Mokgoro."
Dr Omolemo Kitchin
Developing some of SA's most talented healthcare professionals
Discovery started the Discovery Foundation in 2006 to help develop some of the country's most talented healthcare professionals. As Dr Maurice Goodman‚ chief medical officer of Discovery Health and a trustee of the Discovery Foundation‚ says: "Given the huge shortage of doctors in this country‚ South Africa's significant disease burden‚ and the broader impact of this on our country as a whole‚ it is a national imperative to invest developing more doctors in our country."
According to data from the World Health Organization, the world average of physicians per 100 000 people in 2013 was around 186, while South Africa's average was less than half of that at just 74 doctors per 100 000 people. Up until now, Discovery has given financial support to the value of R200 million in the further training and research of 364 doctors or institutions working in SA's public healthcare sector.
Around 12 years ago, Dr Omolemo Kitchin was selected as one of the first recipients of a Discovery Foundation Academic Fellowship Award. Always approachable and quick to laugh, we chatted to this accomplished but easy-going professional about what he's been up to since then.
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself - where did you grow up? What's your family like?
Dr K: I've been married for 19 years and have a 12-year-old. I was born and bred in Mahikeng, in the North West, the first of 3 sons. My father always encouraged us to learn. Each Sunday after church, we would all sit down to read the newspapers. We'd then summarise the stories, and he'd quiz us and correct our pronunciation. I learnt that one must put their very best efforts into whatever they are doing in life.
Q: You're a lecturer in the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at the University of Pretoria. Is this an approach you try to instil in your students?
Dr K: Yes. I believe there is only one way to do things - and that's the right way. It's what I try to teach my daughter too. Integrity is a key trait, and success comes through hard work.
Q: You're certainly no stranger to hard work. Why did you focus on paediatric pulmonology?
Dr K: There are only about 93 registered pulmonologists for adults and 30 for children, in both public and private, throughout SA. This is very few, given the needs of the population. I like working with children because I feel like I never really stopped being one myself! I'm a prankster at heart. Also, I find them refreshingly honest. Kids don't lie about their medical histories! And a thorough history is key to an effective diagnosis.
Q: You also achieved a diploma in allergology at the same time as your Masters. How does this add to your expertise?
Dr K: Allergies are on the rise. This is in part due to rural-urban migration - we no longer live off the land and cook in traditional ways; we're not as exposed to nature and animals; we stay in our homes, are sedentary and eat processed foods - in short, our immune systems are less challenged, making us more susceptible to allergies. Genetics also play a large role.
Q: What do you do to relax?
Dr K: I read. I like to learn how things work. Recently I read a book on how to make wine - I'm partial to a good red. I also play golf.
Q: Ooh, what's your handicap?
Dr K: Well… *long pause, then laughs aloud* …Let's just say I'm a social golfer. Playing golf is a great way to learn humility!
The Discovery Health Medical Scheme is an independent non-profit entity governed by the Medical Schemes Act, and regulated by the Council for Medical Schemes. It is administered by a separate company, Discovery Health (Pty) Ltd, an authorised financial services provider.
1. The world bank Physicians per 1000 people n.d. [online] Accessed: 24 May 2018
2. World health organisation (WHO)Global Health Observatory (GHO) data association [online] Accessed: 24 May 2018.
3. Michael Sanders & Eliza Selley, Evidence on the power of role models 31 July 2017 [online] Accessed: 24 May 2018
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