Name: Dr Viwe Mtwesi
Age: 32 years old
What does it feel like to hold the life of another in your hands?
More than 20 years after democracy, we should not still be celebrating the “first this” or the “first that!” So for me, being a “first” female, black cardiologist is not groundbreaking, it’s heartbreaking!
It doesn’t matter how many patients you’ve seen, you never quite feel good enough to hold another person’s life in your hands. You quickly realise that you can’t ever be mediocre because a person cannot be 50% alive. The bottom line is that you either helped or you didn’t; you either saved the life or you couldn’t; you tried or you failed! You can never become arrogant at the expense of potentially losing a life.
What was your differentiator growing up?
I understood from a young age that I needed an extra push to get to 75% and above, so I attended every lesson offered outside the normal class times. I pushed my way into every extra tutorial or class organised for the top students. I would beg the teachers to let me in because I knew I had it in me to be good. As you would imagine, teachers conceded more out of pity than a belief that I had it in me… but I knew! Thankfully even the doubt from the teachers became a great motivator for me. At home, my family knew where to find me: either in the university library or in my bedroom, studying.
Apparently, you wanted to study engineering at first, but didn’t make it in. And now you’re one of the first women cardiologists in Africa!
You know, at the time I was heartbroken about the engineering but now it all makes sense. I really love what I do, it challenges me to be a better person and to interact with different people from different backgrounds every day. For me that is priceless. More than 20 years after democracy, we should not still be celebrating the “first this” or the “first that!” So for me, being a “first” female, black cardiologist is not groundbreaking, it’s heartbreaking! I know for a fact that there are people who had more potential than me but were never given the opportunity. I was fortunate! Having said that, my fortune has put a sense of responsibility on my shoulders to look out for that special girl child.
It’s clear you want to see other young women inspired to enter the medical field. What are your top five pieces of advice they should really think about?
1. You are more than capable to became whatever you dream and imagine yourself to be.
2. Being female does not make you inferior to men!
3. Helping others is the greatest gift that money can never buy. As a doctor, you get this satisfaction every single day.
4. Our conditioned minds tell us that it is not possible, but natural desire is what drives our passion. So if you desire to be something, know that it is within your reach. Go for it.
5. You will be frustrated if you think medicine is for those who want easy money. As a doctor, you need to have the desire to help and to serve with no expectation of a return. I tell you the truth when I say that I sleep peacefully every night knowing that I did my bit, and I don’t have billions in the bank.
Baragwanath is said to be one of the top “experience” hospitals in the world, because of the sheer number of people and diversity of ailments that are dealt with on a daily basis. Is this true?
I take pride in saying I’m a “product of Bara”. It’s both amazing and harrowing the things you deal with every day, but from a practical and learning perspective it’s an amazing place to learn. The only shortfall is that in the midst of being in such a busy hospital you tend to lose out on facilitated teaching because patient services come first. So, unlike other hospitals, where people have time to review a case or analyze a patient over a longer period of time, Bara is quite different.
You are currently training in Canada. How do we compare to their medical offering?
In South Africa, we get to see it all but never to treat it all. In Canada, we don’t see it all but whatever we see we get to treat. Resources are a big issue in South Africa, especially in the public setting; we are way behind and we need to catch up. Patients in Canada know their rights and they are more interested in knowing about their condition. As a result, doctors need to keep abreast of what is going on, so we are always in the know when it comes to new therapies and results. In South Africa, patients feel that doctors are doing them a huge favour by seeing them and patients give doctors a high level of respect. Not much personal research is done (this could be because of education levels) but South Africans sometimes don’t realise that health care is a basic right.
Besides being a medical doctor, you’re also an entrepreneur! How do you manage to be a doctor and manage a business at the same time?
Yes, I own Reeega Medical Tourism – it is my firstborn. While sleep is very important, for me building a legacy is even more important, so time is made! Every person can do 48 hours worth of work in 24 hours… it’s all about focus. I had to get rid of distractions in my life to achieve this.
Tell us about Reeega Medical Tourism.
We basically make the ill-health period easy for the patient and their family by arranging all medical services. We arrange this for people who come to South Africa for medical treatment from all over the world and we arrange this for South Africans who require treatment not offered in our beautiful country. We also arrange care for people in rural areas of South Africa.
What would a patient get from Reeega?
You would get arranged appointments with renowned specialists that we have relationships with, at earlier appointment dates. We organise easy hospital admissions at negotiated rates for cash-paying patients and we have rehabilitation and recovery lodges where patients can recover while enjoying the beauty of our country! We also do VIP services for businesspeople, celebrities, directors and CEOs, where we arrange elite private and high-security medical care and rejuvenation therapy in private wards and private destinations.
That’s great! Is your ultimate goal to be a doctor or a businesswoman?
Medicine is my calling, my purpose. Being a businesswoman is my passion and a job. They are two separate entities and I see them as such. But both make me jump out of bed in the morning so I can’t imagine giving one up.
The medical profession has to find a balance between saving a life versus making money. Where do you see yourself on this scale?
Saving a life is always my primary goal and no amount of money is worth me not attending to any patient. I try not to involve myself in money issues and my assistant knows that she can never turn away a patient because they have no money to pay me.
You’re considered a barrier-breaker in regards to your upbringing, your sex and your age. Is this an accurate description in your mind?
I’m not the barrier-breaker, my mother is. She broke all barriers for me and every day I look at what she had to go through to give us a better life. It’s a constant reminder that I can’t let myself, or her legacy, down.
What are some of the challenges you faced in the male-dominated medical sector?
I had to constantly remind myself that trying to be a man won't make me one, and screaming won't make them listen to me more. I constantly had to prove myself. Once, one of my seniors said (with no shame), “Teaching cardiology procedures is like teaching a boy and a girl how to drive. You just know the girl will struggle so you tend not to want to waste your time teaching them.”
Did you take the issue further?
South African medical training is very militant and unfortunately, some of the powerful people are protected, so you can never complain otherwise you’ll never qualify. All I can say is: I went through a lot as a woman and no other female should have to go through that type of abuse.
You also had your young age against you...
Yes, but in my mind life is not a race. We must all take time to discover our destinies. For some, it will be a shorter period and for some longer, but what matters is what you pick up along the way.
When did you perform your first real surgery?
It was during my internship at an East London hospital and it was the most beautiful day ever! I did my first ablation case and I tell you what, that moment has stayed with me forever.
What do you do to relax?
I love travelling and dining out so I make it a point to go to a new place at least every four months to experience the people, the food and the culture. Luckily we travel a lot in my field. I also go to the gym and I do yoga to relax. And I love to attend church and do mission work too.
What makes you an Afropolitan?
Fighting patriarchal systems, redefining the power of the girl child, and knowing that change is imminent… regardless of background. Africa is in me and that spirit makes me want to do better! That makes me an Afropolitan.
Reeega Medical Tourism
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