Dr. Thakgalo Thibela is being hailed as one of South Africa’s youngest doctors, having graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery from the University of Witwatersrand. According to the Health Practice Council of South Africa, Thibela is the youngest active female doctor in the country.
The 21-year-old woman is living her lifelong dream of being a doctor. She is helping to put smiles back on the faces of her patients.
“The gratitude patients have after receiving help brings me so much joy,” she was quoted by The Saturday Star. “Seeing smiles on patient’s faces after consultation or when they get discharged from the hospital is why I love this job so much. I’ve always wanted to help people and medicine has given me the platform to do just that.”
Thibela grew up in Violetbank, a rural village in Bushbuckridge, in Mpumalanga in eastern South Africa. Coming from a middle-class family, her dad is a manager at a local municipality while her mother is a primary school teacher. Her parents valued education and instilled in her the power of education at a very young age.
Having been educated through the public school system, Thibela is proud of her achievements. She has always been the youngest person in her class since high school after skipping grades. Thibela skipped grade 7 in primary school and enrolled at Lehlasedi High School where she barely spent a week in grade 9 and was promoted to grade 10.
During her high school graduation, a then 15-year-old Thibela had distinctions in seven out of eight subjects.
“I was very fortunate that the schools I went to (public schools by the way) promoted students they felt were doing well academically, so as a result I didn’t do Grade 7 and 9 and I also started school a year early which enabled me to complete matric at 15,” she told The Saturday Star.
At 16, all Thibela wanted to do was to be a doctor. Thus, during school applications, she chose medicine as her first choice. She was subsequently admitted to Wits University at the age of 16 where she enrolled for a six-year degree in the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery.
Gaining admission to the university was her first time living away from her family and outside her village to the city. It was quite difficult readjusting and she had to deal with low self-esteem coupled with bullying from the city folks because of her thick village accent. She was also ridiculed by her university peers for not pronouncing certain English words the way most people pronounced them, a report by News24 said.
At a point, she felt out of place. Nonetheless, she had one goal and that was to finish medical school. She performed very well in school, earning her the Golden Key International membership, a recognition for students doing well academically. At 21, she has completed her Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery, making herself and her family proud.
She has been instrumental amid the COVID-19 pandemic, working on the frontline with her colleagues at Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg, where she is doing her practical experiential learning.
Patients and doctors alike get fascinated by her skills and level of professionalism especially when they get to know she is 21 years old. In her second year of medical school, Thibela got intrigued by the human brain during a dissection practical and has hopes of specializing in neurosurgery sometime soon.
“The brain and nervous system have always fascinated me. If the brain stops working, whether your heart is still beating or not, you are considered dead.
“For me, the brain is the most important organ in the human body, and I would like to know more about it and help people who have a brain and nervous system lesions get better,” she said.
Thibela hopes to inspire others to chase their dreams as well, especially the young ones in her village.