For the Women in our Lives

Eleanor Roosevelt once said that “A woman is like a teabag – you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water”.

I think that we can all agree that both studying and practicing medicine can qualify as “hot water” – made more difficult with the added pressures that women face such as the need to start families and achieve a work/life balance.

It’s unfair, but oftentimes it feels like women are held to a very high standard and are sold a dream of having it all. This unrealistic goal is said to be a cause of ‘burnout’ in many women in medicine (although burnout is prevalent in both sexes and is an issue that must be addressed within the Medical Community as a whole). Also, let’s not forget that the 2017 Pulse of the People report run by a market research company named Ipsos found that women in South Africa earn 27% less than men. However, despite all of this, women still persist and are making waves within the medical profession.

Therefore, in honour of Women’s Month and in light of all that has happened for women this year in terms of the spotlight on issues such as gender inequality in the work-place, we have decided to place our own spotlight on a woman who is studying medicine and is the embodiment of strong and independent. Her name is Mumtaaz ‘Taz’ Emeran and we asked her a few questions about her experiences as not only a student, but a mother and business-owner.

WSSS: Have you experienced any sexism?
Taz: Not really. But there are many times my intentions as a mother get questioned – specifically as to why my son is in Cape Town while I’m in JHB studying. The answer to that would be that I’m studying so I can provide him with the best life possible. The moment I graduate, he and I will be able to be under the same roof 24/7.

WSSS: How do you balance your studies, your life and your business?
Taz: Time management is essential. I ensure that I start my day off with a good morning routine which includes working out. I make time for my family (they help keep me centred). After I’ve taken care of my mental and physical health and after taking care of the well-being of my family I then make time for my books. If everything in my life is at peace it makes balancing my studies so much easier.

WSSS: Do you feel more pressure to have “everything together”?
Taz: Definitely. I feel like it’s expected of me as a mother to have everything sorted out. But, that expectation is eliminated when my son says “Mommy I know you’ll be a doctor soon, don’t worry”.

WSSS: Finally, why did you choose to study medicine?
Taz: Visiting my premature baby in hospital for 3 months and watching the doctors handle him and nurse him back to health was a wonderful thing to watch. I then decided I wanted to have that kind of impact on someone else one day. I looked at my 1kg son and decided I’m going to become a doctor and give him the best life possible.

Not every woman’s experiences is the same because not every woman is the same. However, this Women’s Month, let us start hearing and acknowledging each woman’s stories so that we may both grow and learn from them as individuals and as a Medical Community. We have come too far as women in this profession to not be the protagonists of our own life-stories and careers. So, here’s to strong women: may we know them; may we be them; may we raise them. Happy Women’s Month and Happy Women’s Day.


Taz is a fourth-year medical student, a mother to a beautiful nine year old boy and the co-founder of FlexGrid320 – an outdoor training team that is dedicated to changing the lifestyles of people through fitness.

You can follow her on Instagram on @tazfitness_sa – she’s an open book (as well as all the fitness motivation you’ll ever need!)

A Take on ‘How to Specialise’

The life of a surgeon is not an easy one. The road to get there is…somewhat daunting. However, it is possible to get there. It just takes a whole lot of character and an unbending passion for what one does.

And I think this was the point of Prof Smith’s lecture.

On Monday the 31st of July, Professor Smith came to talk to us about “How to Specialise”. In all honesty, most were probably expecting this particular lecture to provide a more practical and systematic guideline – don’t worry, that will be provided for you all sometime – but, this was not exactly the case. The advice he offered was not so much a to-do list, but rather a look into what it takes – both mentally and physically – to reach the goal of becoming a surgeon.
Prof Smith first and foremost highlighted the importance of empathy when it came to training. He observed that a significant number of doctors have embraced a form of disconnect when it comes to their patients. Likewise, he also worried about the poor bedside manner that has become common place and, instead, encouraged us to not only maintain both an understanding and compassion for our future patients, but prioritise them above most things as “medicine is about giving…it’s who we are”.

Furthermore, this disconnect can also be linked with the professor’s second piece of advice which centred around Responsibility. The patient is the surgeon’s responsibility. In fact, from the time that the patient is on the table he/she has to be the centre of the surgeon’s world. But things sometimes do go wrong. And this is a reality that is not so easy to face. However, Prof Smith reminded us that instead of running from this reality we should face it – own up to it, even – rather than find somewhere else to place the blame. I suppose a way to do that would be to follow the prof’s advice to both maintain an awareness of the patient’s humanity and stand by one’s own integrity.

Finally, the last little nugget of wisdom shared with us required us to, in essence, dig deep within ourselves as students: we were urged to take control of our own learning. Prof Smith not only insisted we be “open” to everything and pay attention to detail, but to also find the opportunity to grow as a surgeon and as a doctor in every situation. For, one isn’t born a surgeon; It’s a learned skillset – alongside those of communication and leadership. We get to decide what kind of doctors we want to be. After all,
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” – Ursula K. Le Guin

Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital Tour and Paediatric Surgery Lecture Series



Over the past few years, Wits Medical Students have watched the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital being built right at their doorstep so when it was finally completed, it’s understandable that everyone was just itching to see it! This presented us as the Wits Students’ Surgical Society with the beautifully fitting opportunity to host our second lecture series event (Paediatric Surgery) at this brand new hospital. The lecture was preceded by a tour and with the overwhelming RSVP response to our first day, we were compelled to create a second day of the same event! The event was thus run over 2 days with a lecture and tour on both days and was attended by over 200 students!

The tour of the new Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital was truly an experience to behold. From the infrastructure, advanced equipment and attention to detail to the child-friendly design, it was all truly remarkable. Each area of the hospital has been constructed and designed with not only the patient but their entire families in mind. Students enjoyed the viewing of these areas while being guided by a member of the hospital – this allowed them to ask questions and understand the thought process that went into each decision made.

Our students were afforded the opportunity of viewing the world class surgical theatres, all equipped with live streaming facilities! It is so heart-warming to know that such a remarkable facility will have its doors opened to the needy children of South Africa.


After an incredible tour of Nelson Mandela Children’s hospital, the group of one hundred excited students piled into the seminar room for an informative talk by the man who played a crucial role in organizing this incredible event; Professor Jerome Loveland. Prof Loveland is the head of Paediatric surgery at the University of Witwatersrand and knows too well about the massive burden of paediatric surgery in South Africa. After having just learnt about all the fascinating cutting-edge equipment that could be used in this field, we were more than ready to explore the fascinating life of a pediatric surgeon.

Despite some of the preconceptions some may hold with regards to the South African public health system, Prof. Loveland started his talk praising how fortunate we are to be working here. “Similar jobs in Europe and the United States simply do not have the same impact” and very few other professions will give the same level of job satisfaction on a daily basis. As South African medical students we are extremely fortunate to be exposed in the way that we are affording us priceless training opportunities in order to serve our people. Despite this, there is a severe deficit of pediatric surgeons in South Africa. In the US and UK, they strive for 1 pediatric surgeon per 400,000 population. Currently in South Africa we have 1 pediatric surgeon per two million.

But the situation is improving; there has been an increase of registrars from 2 to 10 in the last eight years and posts have been made available in the state sector while still giving access to the private sector. Guests were exposed to how the pediatric surgical unit was first built up at Chris Hani Baragwaneth Hospital, offering the patients the highest level of care that they would receive in a private hospital. Unfortunately, in the past the pediatric surgery unit at Wits was not recognized for its excellence nationally or internationally due to a lack of published works. That has changed greatly and Professor Loveland shared with us a wide variety of fascinating cases from oesophageal transplants to the incredibly rare Pentalogy of Cantrell: with the heart being displaced outside of the thoracic cavity (in case you needed a refresher). Prof ended off the talk telling us about his charity organization: Surgeons for Little Lives “with the overriding objective of raising the level of care given to patients in the Paediatric Surgery wards in state hospitals, in the Greater Gauteng area, to world class standards.”

On the second day of the event Dr. Taryn Gabler gave the Paediatric Surgery Talk. I think I carry the voice of everyone when I praise Dr. Taryn Gabler’s talk as extraordinary. Her passion for paediatric surgery captivated us while her sense of humor reminded us that even in the rigorous career path there is still fun to be had. We were humbled by the work and dedication that goes into becoming a specialized surgeon, but the atmosphere was one of inspiration and unwavering desire to achieve that dream. Dr. Gabler’s eagerness to interact with the society and cooperate with students really shone through. She piqued our interest and her contribution to our perception of pediatric surgery in South Africa has no equal. She has truly immortalized herself in the hearts of Wits Student’s Surgical Society’s members.

We were honored to have such inspirational surgeons teach us so much about the world we hope to be involved in. Our sincerest thanks go out to Professor Loveland and Dr. Gabler for their time and effort on behalf of the society and all of the guests that were lucky enough to attend this extraordinary evening. And a huge thank you must go to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital and their organising team for assisting us in making this tour such a success!




The Great Debate

The night that many had been working so hard towards had finally arrived and had brought with it a nervous energy so palpable that you could taste it; for this, ‘The Great Debate’, was to be one of our biggest events of the year.

The concept was simple: Six Surgeons. Six Specialties. And only one winner.

Representing Plastic Surgery, we had the charming Dr van den Bergh; for Orthopaedics stood the compassionate Dr van Greunen; the designated spokesperson for OB/GYN was the amusing Dr Retief; the “zen” Dr van Heerden and the level-headed Dr Alfaqawi were on the sides of Paediatric and Cardiothoracic Surgeries respectively whilst the witty Dr Manyangadze argued for Trauma.

Each surgeon had only three chances to not only win our votes, but win the title of the “Ultimate Brain” in what was, essentially, the ‘Battle of the Brains’. First, they would present their most interesting cases, then they would succumb to a “Question and Answer” session and, lastly, each professional would talk about the latest advancements within their respective specialties. We, the audience, were to listen and soak in the information given to us with the goal of learning and making an informed decision with regards to our vote.

As each expert took to the quasi-podium – one after the other – their personalities shone through and a previous association of arrogance with surgeons immediately melted away. Their words were laced with the passion that they felt for their respective surgical specialties as well as laced with the excitement at having willing students (who were greedy for knowledge) in front of them. Furthermore, all the afore-mentioned surgeons contributed to the fun with teasing and laughter. Ultimately, it was ‘Team Trauma’ that took home the prize, but all speakers managed to touch our hearts and our minds and may have, to some extent, influenced students’ career choices by the end of the night.

Despite the (many) moments of ‘cheeky banter’ or thought-provoking words, the greatest part of the night was the exposure. In a few hours, we gained a more intimate insight of different surgical specialties – an opportunity not many medical students are granted. Moreover, sometimes the world of medicine can seem daunting in terms of the bountiful fields and the ever-advancing surgical specialties within it. This is why events such as ‘The Great Debate’ are so important.

RSI ped

10 minutes with Prof Benn

Prof Benn[modified transcript of original interview]


 Why did you choose to specialise in this field?

So I think that it was fairly thrust upon me in that I always thought I’d be a trauma surgeon or a vascular surgeon, but then one of the consultants in the breast clinic fell down the stairs and I landed up as the senior registrar at the breast clinic and I actually thought that what the women were going through was more than what I’d seen in trauma. They were lined up in rows, there was no communication or understanding and the concept was of ‘just take the breast off’ – I thought this cannot be happening everywhere in the world and I did some research and saw that the rest of the world were doing immediate reconstruction and realised that life is not just about the disease. Life is about the person and making the person’s life worthwhile.

So then I got training overseas and brought it back into the country. The first time I ever engaged in this topic, I was actually booed off the stage. One of the things they said is: “You’ve got to survive for a year before you can have your breast reconstructed” – and that’s absolute rubbish. Then what I did was I went to Bara and I set up a clinic there.


There were two women that I was seeing per week, right next to the urology cubicle and then I realised that the lack of attendance indicates the need to raise awareness – awareness out in the community. So we went to Soweto and suddenly we realised that this is not a disease of elderly white women, this is a disease of ALL women, young and old. We saw everything from 23 year old black girls to Indian girls.


We have breast problems and we see lots of breast cancers, particularly in youngsters but people are not aware. So the first thing was getting awareness and getting what I call ‘cultural navigation’ set up, which means  that people are navigated around disease options and choices by people from their own communities – that’s really the best way. You don’t want a 50 year old white lady saying: ‘Oh well, you must do this’. What right do I have in saying this when I don’t understand the depth of people’s cultures. It’s really about holistic medicine, understanding that 6 out of 10 ladies that get breast cancer have no risk factors. So it is important to make people realise that even though it affects the people you least suspect, can be managed using a multidisciplinary approach.


The concept is that no man is an island. This concept of a doctor going out and practising alone is not accurate. You practice within a team of people that have special interests from different aspects of the field. So you’re looking at it from different sides with the patient being in the centre and that is the best way that you can ensure holistic care. I also don’t like what I call ‘vertical medicine’.

People put doctors that say: “This is what you must do” on pedestals. Doctors don’t have a right to do that, unless you are sitting in someone else’s shoes. That’s why I encourage patients to just call me Carol. So medicine must be ‘horizontal medicine’ in which a two dimensional approach is taken by using your expertise as a doctor but also taking the patient’s experience into consideration. We’ve seen this approach have better outcomes in that 9 out 10 patients with breast cancer are well 10 years down the line after treatment, which is quite exciting.


As a woman in surgery, have you ever been victim of stereotyping or the ‘glass ceiling’ phenomena?

Absolutely! So when I was a registrar, my senior registrar said to me:” I’m not prepared to teach you, I’m prepared to date you.” So I used to sit in on meetings and I was the only female and the guys would talk right through me. Even today.  I was offered a professorship by the deanery at the age of 35 but then I was told I was too young to accept the offer, so I waited and waited until the current dean said: “It’s an embarrassment, you have to take this”.


But yes absolutely 100%. (Referring to the original question)


The thing is, if there is a problem you must see past the problem. You must never let it stop you from doing anything. There is always another solution by using another way. It may still be a male dominated specialty, in terms of headships and who gets what, but that doesn’t matter. You need to define what your best role is. So is your best role in administration or is your best role in being a voice?


I think that sometimes when things happen that you don’t want or don’t expect, you must not take it as: ‘Well it’s everyone else’s fault’. Rather, have a look and see if you’re actually not supposed to be in a different space yourself. I don’t think we must ever accept any form of prejudice, but what we must always be aware of, is that there are always other ways of achieving goals that may be slightly out of the box.


What sets you apart from other surgeons?

I genuinely care about my patients. For me they are part of my family.

Medicine is a service profession, it’s about working as a team and never underestimating the fact that you’re not the person in control. You must really be aware of all the parts that play a role and really realise that we are here to create service and change people’s lives for the better.


How are you affected by the resource limitations in the public sector?

Well I think that for me my private practice generates my work in the public sector. There’s a lot of goodwill. I have the most amazing breast unit, I have a breast health foundation, I have counselling etc. That doesn’t come from the public sector, it comes from private goodwill. So the patients I have treated have had contributions from private and corporate entities. So I think we should look at the two in synergy and not as an opposition. So I can say: “Steal from the rich for the poor.” You always have to be able to overcome. Which is why I can genuinely say you can get equivalent care at Helen Joseph as compared to the private sector.


What piece of advice do you wish you had gotten whilst still a medical student?

I was fortunate to have some very good mentors. The advice I would have liked to have and would like to give is that I think there needs to be more open communication and mentorship with students. In other words, working on the concept of feeling less like you’re struggling on your own by challenging why we are not working as a team.

A student is not below a consultant or professor. People are equal in their own right and there has to be more open communication and understanding. My heart breaks when I see that students have to leave and people don’t understand their funding issues and other issues that apply. There has to be more open communication. There’s always a solution. I think it’s just difficult as students to know who to take your problems to.


What would you change/improve in the medical school educational system?

Mentorship. Absolute open mentorship. I often have this discussion in my department. How do you know how many people someone mentors and who mentors who. I think mentorship is like respect, you must want to mentor and it doesn’t matter if you mentor 1, 10 or 100. The concept is that you then set up systems. If 100 people require mentorship around one person, that is an opportunity for a system to be set up. There needs to be more of what I call: “Electronic white boards of need.” in which we can ascertain the needs of the students, for example: “Who needs to carpool?”

I think we are such a small world village in terms of social interaction and communication, yet we are still so isolated in terms of helping each other, and that for me is quite sad. There needs to be more generosity of spirit in the medical school environment.


 What do you do for fun?

I “Run Forrest, run!” I love running.

I love reading around things like Dr Seuss

I just love fun – so reading and going out to dinner with people. I love people.


What is your favourite thing about your job?

Every moment of the day. Treating people, I have huge respect for my patients. To go through chemo is like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro – it’s so hard! I am humbled by what I do.

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Prof Azzie Mini Lecture

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On the 24th of March 2017 the Wits Students Surgical Society had the honour of hosting world renowned general and paediatric surgeon, Professor Georges Azzie, for an engaging mini lecture and discussion on Global Surgery. The lecture took place in the Public Health Building at the University of the Witwatersrand’s education campus.

Professor Azzie engaged the students in a 30 minute lecture on the trends in global surgery, and his experiences as a surgeon in South Africa and Botswana. He presented some of his most interesting cases, and we were inspired by the many challenges he has faced and overcome throughout his surgical career- from the lack of resources and trained staff in the low income countries he has worked in, to opposing his colleagues and successfully implementing projects that promote and improve Global Surgery.

After the lecture, a discussion was held and students were able to ask Professor Azzie questions in order to get his views and ideas on specific areas pertaining to global surgery. Through the discussion, Professor Azzie inspired students to come up with ideas to improve surgical services in South Africa and other low income countries in Africa.

The event was a big success, and the Wits Students Surgical Society is honoured to have had the opportunity to afford fellow students the privilege of interacting with a surgeon of Professor Azzie’s caliber.

RTD1 – Professor Carol-Ann Benn: ‘Can We Learn about ourselves from the careers we choose’

Prof Benn

For our first round table discussion of the year, The Wits Students’ Surgical Society was fortunate enough to host Professor Carol-Ann Benn: one of the top breast cancer experts in South Africa. Prof Benn explored her journey in getting to where she is today; and the obstacles she had to overcome in a male-dominated world focused on radical hysterectomies.

In a surprising twist, Prof Benn referenced one of her favorite doctors – Dr Seuss throughout her talk and to delve more into what it means to find that little niche of medicine that you are happy in. “Know what you like, and know what you don’t like” – simple, yet thought provoking words as Prof Benn explained her disdain for the stench of Gastrointestinal surgery or a necrosing diabetic foot. She went on to contemplate that even if there was a cure for breast cancer today, she would go out and find something new to love.

The participants were also provoked to reflect on our futures as surgeons in South Africa and how positive that future is. Prof pointed out just how many gaps there are that need to be filled by our generation, and how much further we still have to go in the world of Medicine: integrating sub specialties and improving research across all fields.

As part of the discussion, the participants were prompted to ask any questions they may have, which leaned towards the more personal aspects of her career and personal life. She opened up on managing to have a family life, dealing with the emotional side of medicine, and having to balance giving patient’s hope and being realistic.

The talk was thoroughly enjoyed by all involved as Prof Benn had to leave for her date night, giving us all some hope of a social life in surgery. The Wits Students’ Surgical Society is immensely grateful to Professor Benn for making time for us and putting in so much effort and passion into all that she does.

Speed Surgeon

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On the 6th of February 2017, we were excited to host our first event of the year; Speed Surgeon. We had the pleasure of having 7 incredible surgeons take the time to educate and inspire several students in a one-on-one setting. This is the second Speed Surgeon event that the Society has hosted and due to the success of last year’s event it was no surprise that the spaces available filled up within only a few hours after the RSVP form was released.

Surgeons representing several specialties including Trauma, Ophthalmology, Obstetrics and Gynaecology as well as Breast surgery to name a few were in attendance on the evening. Students were exposed to the variety of specialties as they rotated between the surgeons where they could ask any questions they had about the specialties or the surgeons themselves. The positive response from those in attendance is a testament to the incredible exposure the students received from attending this event. A special thank you must go to the surgeons who attended the event: Dr Williams, Dr Benn, Dr Klipin, Dr Murdoch, Dr Koranteng-Peprah, Dr Doherty and Dr Bischof.

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Trauma Lecture Series

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Monday, 6 March 2017, saw the Wits Students’ Surgical Society host our first Lecture Series Event of the year. This concise lecture was presented by Dr Kirsten Bischof, a Trauma Surgeon at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital who has already worked with the Surgical Society on numerous occasions. We were glad to have one hundred and twenty students join us at our first major event of the year. The lecture was based around a patient who had presented with a traumatic neck injury as a result of a gunshot. Dr Bischof used her lecture to demonstrate the importance of knowing one’s anatomy and physiology when working in Trauma. She used a series of images to explain the management of the patient and took us through a number of possible complications. Dr Bischof also emphasised the importance of the human impact of her work as a Trauma Surgeon. The QnA session at the end of the evening was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone present. Dr Bischof answered a number of questions, including several questions about her work as a female Trauma Surgeon in a relatively resource-poor setting. We would like to thank Dr Bischof for starting the society’s lecture series on a fantastic note!

Congratulations to Arya Chinniah who was the lucky winner of our first RSVP prize – a set of Life Healthcare Scrubs.


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10 minutes with Dr Murdoch


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[As transcribed]


Why plastics?

“Most people want to be firemen or astronauts when they are 5 years old, the only thing I have ever wanted to be was a surgeon, but I wanted to be a brain surgeon first then I wanted to be an ENT surgeon because my dad had a lot of surgeries, but I have always wanted to be a surgeon. My parents used to buy ‘readers digest’ and I would read all the medical stuff. When I was 12 years old I was given this book about a plastic surgeon and I read that book and said to myself ‘man, this is the coolest business in the whole world!’ and from then on plastic surgery was the only thing I wanted to do. When I was asked at medical school why I wanted to be a doctor I said it is so that I can become a plastic surgeon. So I didn’t stumble upon it, this is the only thing I have ever wanted to do and it’s still the only thing I want to do.”

How do you navigate the complexity of the psychological motivations for cosmetic surgery? 

“After a while you develop a ‘crazy-filter’, you sort of have a quotient – the patient wants something and they have some kind of real expectation and then they have got like a crazy fantasy and everyone has a little bit of both because when you come in for a procedure you’re expecting it to change your life, make you a better person or get you a date. So you go through your crazy-filter and determine if the patient’s crazy quotient is okay, but sometimes patients have psychological problems such as dysmorphic disorder or some patients are completely unrealistic then I refer them to a psychiatrist or psychologist to assist me and I inform them that I won’t do the surgery until they have had a psychiatric evaluation. Sometimes the crazy only comes out later then you ask another surgeon to see your patient for a second opinion because sometimes it’s easier for a patient to accept that this is a really good result if they hear it from another surgeon. So it’s good to have some senior colleagues with really grey hair to say ‘this is a great result!’”

Is it frustrating working plastics in the public sector? Resource limitations?

“I don’t work in the public sector, I only do private. And it’s frustrating everywhere, but the frustrations in private are way less. The frustrations are very different for example private sector frustrations are medical aids, tons of admin, writing letters for stuff and the cost of procedures, whereas in the public sector the only frustration is resources, stuff being too expensive/ not available. Availability of resources in private sector doesn’t make it stress-free there’s a lot more stress when it comes to dealing with money.”


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Personal fears when going into surgery?

“The fear of failure. You want every case to be the best one you have ever done. That’s how you go in – you go in saying ‘this is going to be the best breast augmentation I have ever done.’ Otherwise, how are you going to get any better if you say you’re going to do it how you always do it. You only get better if you continue to strive for the best. The anxiety of every surgeon is that we want the best possible results for our patients and for ourselves to go home thinking today we did well.”

What can you say to students for them to consider plastics as a potential speciality? What kind of characteristics do you think one needs to become a plastic surgeon?

“It’s a really long road, but then so is everything else. Medicine is a long road, an undergraduate degree is 6 years, 2 years community service and 2 years internship. Plastics is a really long road, but it’s an awesome speciality. I’m biased I think plastics is the best speciality there is. If you want to do plastics it’s hard to get into and it’s the hardest speciality because it has the textbook with the greatest number of pages on any medical subject in the history of the world ever published, 9000 pages! It’s hard, but if you love it it’s not that hard because it becomes easier to read when you actually want to read it.”

What would you change/improve in the medical school educational system?

“Medical students come to me for electives,  I only get to see what I teach, we chat and some things are good other things are bad, but overall the students are the same or better than when  I was a student. The impression that I get from students is that the education is the same or better in some regard. The good students are going to be the good students no matter what they do and the bad students are still going to be terrible students, the average student is the same or a tiny bit better. So I think the medical school education system is still good.”

What is your favourite thing about your job?

“Other than operating? Other than getting a thrill when you operate? It’s narcissistic but when a patient says ‘you’re so good.’ It sounds terribly narcissistic but I like that a lot. I like what I do, I like helping people and I like seeing a great result, but when a patient says thank you in that way that says I’m so good I like it a lot.”

Do you have any special pre/post-surgery traditions?

“I have a whole bunch of cool hats and I hate it when I don’t have a cool hat. If I have to wear a paper hat I’m unhappy, I feel under-dressed. And a pair of comfy shoes – I like my Crocs. I don’t have any special traditions, there’s the ritual of washing up, but everyone has to scrub the same way. We have coffee before surgery, but that’s a social thing, not a tradition. It’s all about my hats, if I’m not wearing one of my hats then I  don’t feel like I’m up for the game.”


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Welcome to our blog

Wits Students' Surgical Society Committee 2017
Wits Students’ Surgical Society Committee 2017


On behalf of the 2017 Wits Students’ Surgical Society Committee I would like to extend a warm welcome to you and express our gratitude to you for joining us as we move to make 2017 our best year yet.

The academic year is now in full swing and the Committee has already hosted several events. Our first two Basic Suturing Workshops were well-attended and thoroughly enjoyed by all and Speed Surgeon, an event which was successfully piloted last year, drew a crowd of enthusiastic students who spent the evening with some top surgeons.

This year we have assembled a fantastic team to lead the committee; Emma Wessels (Vice-President), Jacob Blou (Sponsors), Shiraz Harypursat (Events), Falak Khan (Workshops) and Cecile Olivier (Outreach). Our thanks must go to the 2016 Committee, which was led by Robin Andrews (President) and Jonathan De Blocq (Vice-President) and a very capable Executive Committee for making the year a successful and enjoyable one! We thank the committee for all of its hard work.

We have a number of upcoming events to look forward to; Lecture Series Event 1 will see Dr Bischof delivering a Trauma Surgery presentation and our brand new Ophthalmology workshop promises to expose students to a whole new set of skills. The Laparoscopy workshop is back on our calendar and will join the Trauma, Orthopaedics and ICD workshop complement. The Great Debate has been redesigned and we’re doing our best to improve our outreach opportunities.

We’ll keep you updated about our other events as the year progresses. In the meantime, make sure that you visit our website ( where you’ll find our RSVP forms and the latest news on the society. Our social media pages have been busy and we will continue to share photos and news throughout the year. The details of these pages can be found on our website.

This year marks seven years since the inception of the society and we’re thankful for the contribution that we’ve received from all of our alumni members (represented by Stephanie van Straten) – the fact that students who were involved in founding the society are still involved speaks volumes for the impact that the Surgical Society has on the lives of students.

While on the subject of making an impact on the lives of students, we must extend a special vote of thanks to our primary sponsor, Medtronic, who go out of their way to support us wherever possible. We know that this will be another successful year with you!

We’re looking forward to having you, our members, join us at our events and we hope that you will feel free to give us feedback throughout the year. We hope that you use the opportunities that the society provides to network with some of the top surgeons in Johannesburg, improve your knowledge and skills, and form great relationships with your fellow Medical students!



John-Paul Da Costa (President, 2017)

Easter Egg Distribution

Every year the society encourages students from Medical School to bring Easter eggs through to be distributed to the children in Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital.

This year, on 23 May, members of the surgical society and about 15  other volunteers, distributed thousands of Easter Eggs to the children’s wards. The Smile Foundation had run a similar drive, amplifying the joy and amount of children that we were able to reach. A special thank you to David Rooken-Smith for being the Easter bunny and bringing countless smiles and giggles to all the children.

Kilimanjaro Launch

The Wits Students’ Surgical Society was proud to launch the Kilimanjaro Challenge 2016. This launch took place on 3 May 2016 at the Marie Curie Lecture Theatre on the Wits Health Sciences Campus. Speakers included Sean Disney, Marketing Director of Adventure Dynamics International, who is the first South African to have completed the grand slam, which refers to summiting the seven summits as well as skiing to the North and South Poles; Hedley Lewis, Executive Director of the Smile Foundation and Graeme Moore, project leader of the Kilimanjaro Challenge 2014 who shared his team’s experience of the challenge.

A provisional team has been assembled and we would like to invite anyone who would still like to be a part of the project in any way (including fundraising or other supporting roles) to contact us.

This project is sure to be a great success. Keep watching this space!

Alex Clinic Outreach

Alex Clinic

Our Alex Clinic Outreach program provides medical students with an opportunity to attend a night call at Alexandra Community Heath Centre (CHC). The CHC cultivates great potential for inquisitive students to learn, giving students the opportunity to practice diagnostic skills at acute patient care; suturing skills on patients deemed appropriate by the doctor on call; trauma in the trauma bay, and obstetrics at the maternity ward.

The Alex Clinic Outreach program was started in December 2012, but unfortunately had to be halted at the end of 2014. In May this year, the Wits Students’ Surgical Society was finally able to relaunch this project and continue sending students to the Clinic on the last Friday of each month. We are very fortunate to have the following parties, without whom the trips would not be possible, involved: ABSA for transportation; Olive and Plates for the food, the student volunteers and, most importantly, the Faculty of Health Sciences Office.

On the 27th May 2016, I gathered with a group of 6 fellow medical students spanning from GEMP I to GEMP IV, all of us geared up for the long night ahead of us. Each student carried their own equipment and a fuel-filled bag that would maintain their energy levels to survive the night.

We embarked at 19h00 on the familiar route to Sandton, only turning at the last minute into Alexandra Township. Upon arriving at the CHC, we familiarised ourselves with the clinic that was to be our home for the night.

The queue was already saturated with patients; nurses and the on-call doctor were busy with patients, and everything at the CHC was running in full gear. We placed our bags in the drip room and charged towards the mounting patient files. Dividing ourselves into teams that consisted of a junior (GEMP I and II) paired with a senior (GEMP III and IV), we got to work. The first laceration was sutured, the first drip inserted and a number of patients were clerked by the team within the first few minutes of the visit.

As the night went on, junior and senior students alike gained valuable knowledge and skills, as well as the confidence that comes with experience and practice.

Eventually, the first rays of dawn shone on the winter-swept Alexandra Township, signalling for us to return to Wits Medical School.

All in all, the first Alex Trip was a great success, with everything running seamlessly. I would like to thank the staff at Alexandra Clinic for all their wonderful assistance and for giving our students this opportunity to learn. The knowledge you have bestowed upon us is invaluable. I, for one, learnt a lot from the trip and I am certain that any other student who attends Alex Clinic would agree.

MSC Sports Day Suturing Competition

On Wednesday 11th May 2016 the Wits Medical Students’ Council hosted their annual sports day and the Wits Students’ Surgical Society had the opportunity to host our annual suturing competition.

Many students joined us for an afternoon of fun and spirited competitive suturing! Contestants were judged on their suturing technique, neatness and speed. Congratulations go to our competition winner Victoria Stock and runner-up Michael Douglas-Henry.

Students were also given the opportunity to learn and be treated to some basic-suturing demonstrations. Thank you to all those that visited the stall and participated. A great afternoon was had by all!