Passion, a desire to help people and living past seven months in spite of premature birth, are the things that have driven Dr Thakgalo Thibela to become a health professional. Being the nation’s youngest active female doctor is just the cherry on top

Dr Thakgalo Thibela (21), is the youngest active female doctor in South Africa and is doing her internship at Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg. She graduated from Wits University on December 17, 2020, as a bachelor of medicine and bachelor of surgery.

“My decision to become a doctor was influenced by quite a number of things,” said Thibela. ‘’My first influence was this burning desire to want to do medicine. As I grew up, that passion grew more and more and it actually felt like it was a desire put in me by God.’’

Her desire to help people and give back to the community were further factors that contributed to her doing medicine.

“I felt that medicine would give me the platform to help people and I believe that a healthy person makes a better person,” she told Wits Vuvuzela. Thibela hopes that in the next 10-15 years she can open her own clinic, or something along those lines, to give back to her community.

Thibela was born in the small village of Violet Bank in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga. She describes it as “a really rural area, one of those places where it takes the government [a] long time to tar a road. We still struggle with water, [and] good roads but it is mostly a good place in that we still have a sense of Ubuntu.”

She describes herself as coming from a middle-class family and is the second of three girl children. Thibela’s father, Niclaas Thibela, who works at the local municipality, told Wits Vuvuzela it was a miracle that his daughter was alive.

“When her mother was pregnant with [Thakgalo] there were some complications, and one doctor told her mother to terminate or [the mother] was going to die. The mother refused and as a result Thakgalo was born at six months,” said Niclaas.

Thibela says when her mother was telling her the story, she told her there was one health professional who told her to hold on and trust in God: “I remember thinking I also want to be able to give people hope and that things actually work out for that person.”

The young doctor shocked a lot of people by starting university at the age of 15, after she was promoted early in both primary and high school. 

Niclaas told Wits Vuvuzela that, “When she was in grade six, the principal from Lehlasedi High School came to the family and said, ‘I need this child’, and the principal from the [Farel] primary school did not refuse. [The primary school principal] informed us and no one was against the promotion, so the following year she went to grade 8 instead of grade 7.

Thibela was then promoted from grade 8 to grade 10 when she got to Lehlasedi High School, and she made it into the top 10 performing learners in the Buhlabela region when she completed her matric.

“For the longest time I thought I wanted to be a neurosurgeon, and now that I am actually in surgery helping and seeing how things are done, I am not really sure because I have more options opening up for me now, but still in surgery,” said Thibela.

As the Wits University academic year is about to start for many first-year students, Thibela’s message to anyone who wants to pursue a career in medicine is, “Do it if you are really passionate about it, because it really gets to you. Medicine and everything that comes with it is really draining on its own. Medicine brings a lot of challenges and there are a lot of sacrifices to be made, and you will only be okay with making those sacrifices if it is something you really love.

‘’There are few rewarding moments where you actually see progress. The day-to-day is really daunting, and if you are not passionate about it you will end up dropping out, but if it’s passion driving you, even when the going gets tough you know that at the end of the day you are doing something you love.”

FEATURED IMAGE: Dr Thakgalo Thibela on duty. Photo: Provided