Dr. Ncumisa Jilata was 29 when she became Africa’s youngest neurosurgeon. The history-making feat followed Jilata’s completion of her fellowship for the Council of Neurosurgeons of South Africa in 2017.
Jilata’s fascinatingly grueling journey to being the youngest neurosurgeon in Africa began in 2003 when she was in eleventh grade. Determined to reach her career goals, the South African had to cram three years of biology in one year when she got matric in addition to the subjects she had selected from grade 10.
Jilata discovered the concept of a neuron during that period, which she describes as amazing, and the fact that society as a whole is influenced and controlled solely by its existence intrigued her.
“That’s when I knew I wanted to be a neurosurgeon,” she told the Eastern Cape Daily Dispatch newspaper
“All the body parts made sense to me but the brain really captured my attention. Everything starts with the brain – walking, writing, ruling the world . . . The brain is the seat of the soul and I wanted to learn more about it,” W24 further quoted Jilata as saying.
Jilata enrolled in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the Walter Sisulu University, completing her Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB) degree and graduated in 2009, followed by an extra two years of internship, a year of community service and two more years as a medical officer (registrar), W24 reported. Jilata would also spend five years as a fellow with the University of Pretoria simultaneously to train as a neurosurgeon.
Amid her packed calendar, Jilata also had to battle her way through the male-dominated field to prove she’s deserving of being at the table.
“It’s common to be second-guessed as a woman but one’s work ethic will always speak volumes. I had to sweat to break through barriers of patriarchy to pave the way for other young women – especially those from the rural former Transkei – to give them someone to look up to,” she told the Eastern Cape Daily Dispatch newspaper.
When Jilata became the continent’s youngest brain surgeon in 2017, there were 150 other female doctors and medical residents working in the neurosurgical field across Africa, the World Federation of Neurological Societies said.
Jilata was inspired by Dr. Coceka Mfundisi, one of the first black South African women to qualify in the neurology field.
“I was the only woman among men and when she told me she wanted to be a neurosurgeon I could already see her working with me at the University of Pretoria, where she later joined me… [Her] success is a proud moment for the impoverished community of the Eastern Cape and a victory for every woman, especially because she did everything in record time, at a very young age,” she said of Jilata.