Dr. Vhutshilo Netshituni is the first black pediatric oncologist in South Africa.
A pediatric oncologist is a doctor with specialist expertise in managing children with cancer. The cancer may be in any location or system, including the blood (leukemia), brain or body.
And Netshituni is doing just that at Pietersburg Hospital in South Africa’s Limpopo Province.
Born in Tshilafene village outside the South African town of Thohoyandou, Netshituni’s childhood was inundated with so many challenges.
After losing her father at a relatively tender age, her mother who goes by the name Sophy had the herculean task of raising her single-handedly with her three other siblings.
Netshituni discovered she wanted to be a doctor while visiting her cousin who was a medical student on campus, she recollected in an interview with Sowetan.
“I saw all these people wearing white coats. From that day on I fell in love with medicine. All I wanted was to see myself helping people in a white coat,” she said.
Amid abject poverty and many other life struggles, the now history-making Netshituni enrolled at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University to pursue a medical degree after her 12 grade. That was 1999.
“Even though life was different, my mom tried her best. In the first year, my mom could only afford to give me registration money and that, for me, was enough. I didn’t know how I was going to survive when I got there. All I wanted was to study medicine,” she told Sowetan.
Netshituni’s passion for the profession was so ubiquitous that her history-making feat didn’t come as a surprise. Knowing what she wanted in life she fought and defied all the challenges that came her way.
Netshituni’s experiences with children helped her narrow her area of specialty as a medical doctor, deciding to become a pediatrician. She worked briefly at the Polokwane oncology unit before advancing her qualification as a pediatric oncologist at Stellenbosch University.
“What struck me was seeing those kids smiling regardless of what they were going through. That made me brave. It kept me going,” she told Sowetan.
Netshituni sees between 20 and 30 outpatients every Wednesday and she is a model and a symbol of hope for black South African women.