'No one will believe in your dream and vision more than you do'
When Doctor Nomusa Shezi was in primary school she developed a passion for helping the most fragile in our society, the sick.
Raised by a father who is a pastor and a mother who works in the health sector, the spirit of community service and sacrifice was birthed in their daughter when she would be taken to health facilities which took care of people with HIV/Aids.
This saw the then nine-year-old Shezi dreaming of becoming a medical professional and wanting to find a cure for HIV.
"Back in the 1990s HIV was such a terrible disease to have because we didn't have treatment and young people being diagnosed almost felt like a death sentence.
"When I was growing up I felt like I had to do something beyond sympathising with my neighbours [whose loved ones had died].
"My dream at that time was to find a cure for HIV and help people," she said.
Today, Shezi, 32, is one of South Africa's only black woman neurosurgeons, working at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital in Durban.
Dr Shezi fell in love with neurosurgery after reading about the exploits of Dr Ben Carson, from the US, who separated conjoined twins at the age of 35.
But to reach her destination, she had work hard and make a number of sacrifices, including having no social life at all. She would bury her head in her books, seeing very little of her family. Her friends even stopped inviting her to social gatherings because she was always busy.
Even when she became a doctor, she did not slip into a comfort zone. I wanted to do the most good in a field that would keep me on my toes, never feeling like I have fully expanded my skill or knowledge.
When asked what she enjoys the most about being a doctor in general, and a neurosurgeon in particular, she said: As a doctor, I enjoy being able to help people at their most vulnerable; whether it is through providing hope or comfort when science fails. As a Neurosurgeon, nothing is more rewarding than seeing someone come into the hospital in severe pain or with a marked disability, and after intervention and rehabilitation, seeing them smile because they can now walk without pain or they can return to work and lead a normal life.
However, she has had to overcome numerous obstacles that have so far ensured that countrywide, there are only five Black woman Neurosurgeons - with the first having only qualified in 2013.
"We are still working in an environment where surgery in general is considered a ‘manly’ field. So, Neurosurgery becomes an even harder field to crack. Medicine, more so surgery, is an apprenticeship. Someone needs to be willing to teach you the skills (after the theory is complete) and as a female, surrounded by 99% males who do not always think you deserve to be one of "them", finding that mentorship and guidance is not always easy. And so, females gravitate towards ‘less stressful’ fields," she says.
Even as she has made history, Dr Shezi has a few more personal goals that she would like to achieve in the near future.
"My mid-term goals are to complete my Masters, and continue to learn and grow. My long-term plan is to create and be a part of a functional Neurosurgery Unit in KZN, at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital. I would like to build a team that would treat movement disorders, severe epilepsy and perform awake surgery. This would not just save the government millions of rand on life-long treatment, but more importantly it will provide quality of life to hundreds of thousands of patients in this province."
In the meantime, she hopes that her amazing feat will spur others to follow in her footsteps. And she has a message for them:
"No one will believe in your dream and vision more than you do. So, listen and take the criticism, but do not let it have the final say in your life. Look for and find mentors as early as possible. The fact that not everyone is your cheerleader doesn’t mean everyone is your enemy. Take time to always evaluate what you are doing and whether that is adding or taking a brick away from the house you are building."