It has been more than a year since COVID-19 reached South Africa, and many Dell Young Leaders alumni continue their important roles as frontline workers supporting their communities. Alum Amahle Jongile, the first doctor in his family and a doctor who served in one of the hardest hit communities during the first wave of infections, shares his experience on the importance of becoming a leader in the face of adversity.
Tell us more about your journey to university and after graduation.
I was born and bred in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. I was part of the 2012 Dell Young Leaders cohort and after obtaining my Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degrees, I moved to Durban for my medical internship. After I completed my internship, I moved back to Cape Town for my community service — to serve and give back to the Khayelitsha District Hospital.
Can you tell us about your experience as a doctor during the pandemic?
My experience during COVID-19 has been an uncomfortable one. When we were at the first-wave stage, I was working at Khayelitsha District Hospital and had to see my own community members being affected by the virus. Working as a doctor at this time in South Africa involved a lot of learning, firsts, improvising, and making the best out of dire situations.
There were instances where I had to take the lead at Khayelitsha because we were in unchartered waters, and that is what leadership is about. I had to adapt and be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Can you share more about the Khayelitsha community and its hospital?
The Khayelitsha District Hospital was close to where I lived and fairly new, just about nine years old. As a district hospital it offers more support than nearby community clinics, but limited specialty care. The specialists there only do the basics and then refer patients to Tygerberg Hospital, which is a tertiary hospital. The resources in Khayelitsha are quite good, but as the patient intake increases the personnel and resources become strained.
Outside of the pandemic, it surprised me that we saw a lot of trauma cases. There is a lot of violence in the community in Khayelitsha. Having grown up and lived there, I knew that was the case, but seeing it from the other end as one of the doctors was different. I did not quite realise the magnitude of the violent crimes.
At the same time, I related better to patients serving as a doctor in my community. Not only did I speak their language, but I also understood their circumstances. I could consider different psychosocial aspects of their treatment, and what their care would be like when they got back into the community.
What lessons have you learnt from this experience that you would like to share with other frontline workers and Dell Young Leaders?
I would like to encourage everyone to take a leap of faith, be comfortable with being uncomfortable, and to step up and show up for yourself during this pandemic and beyond. Having done that by myself, I can say that I am braver and stronger emotionally from the experience.
In the future, I plan to venture into pediatrics. It is something I’ve always been interested in and being in Khayelitsha got me back to my love of pediatrics. Amidst the trauma I saw in the Khayelitsha District Hospital, I found myself spending the most time in the pediatrics centre of the trauma ward.
Having experienced what I have, I feel I have the temperament to work with kids. As a career plan, I want to work in hospitals and be a doctor, but also work with NGOs and social entrepreneurship organisations. I would like to be a specialist in pediatrics but focus on community pediatrics so I can integrate my interest in social entrepreneurship.
What impact do you want to have as a future leader in your field?
I want to have a long-lasting impact. When you can prevent debilitating illness in a child, you can improve their whole life by limiting the effect of their illness on other things like school and longer term suffering. As someone who has come from a disadvantaged community and benefitted from the help and support of others, I think it is important for me to get the knowledge and skills in pediatrics and use those skills to contribute to general community well-being. With kids, it is much easier to treat their condition, change habits early, and make a bigger impact to help them reach their full potential in the long term.