Meet KZN's first black female neurosurgeon

Johannesburg – Dr Nomusa Shezi knew as early as Grade 3 that she wanted to be a doctor: she remembers writing in an English essay as a little girl that she wanted to be the first person to find a cure for HIV/Aids.

While the search for a cure continues and Shezi finds herself in a different branch of medicine, the 32-year-old has already got an impressive first under her belt.

Not only is she the first black female neurosurgeon in KwaZulu-Natal, she is one of only five black African women neurosurgeons countrywide.

Shezi, who three weeks ago obtained a fellowship from the College of Neurosurgeons, under the Colleges of Medicine of South Africa, said while she felt that her achievement marked a great milestone she looked forward to the day "when we no longer celebrate the first black or first woman".

"I wish to inspire young people and women and tell them that there is no fear, that we are capable of not only entering certain fields, but that we can also excel in them," she said.  

Born in Edendale Hospital in 1985, the young doctor grew up in Grange in Pietermaritzburg until her parents, whom she calls her "prayer warriors" and "cheer leaders", moved the family to Prestbury when she was 10.

During her formative years she attended Grange Primary School and then went on to complete her matric at Pietermaritzburg High School.

Shezi, who describes herself as a quiet and shy bookworm at the time, then applied to study medicine at various universities, eventually enrolling at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN).

Potential for 'great things'

She completed her studies at UKZN in 2008 followed by a two-year internship in Pietermaritzburg and a year of community service in Nongoma.

"While I was doing my undergrad, I knew that I wanted to be a neurosurgeon."

Shezi cites as her inspiration the work of Dr Ben Carson, now a politician in US President Donald Trump's Cabinet, who in 1987 led a team of neurosurgeons in a groundbreaking operation to separate conjoined twins.

Her big ambition is to start a neurosurgery unit within the province's health department that will focus on helping babies with brain diseases including epilepsy and Parkinson's disease and introduce innovative surgical procedures.

"There is a lot of potential for us to do great things in KZN," she said.

Shezi, who currently works at one of the country's leading hospitals, Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital, said the recovery of her patients was the most fulfilling part of the job.

"Nothing is more rewarding than a patient coming into the hospital in severe pain or with a marked disability and after intervention and rehabilitation seeing them smile because they can now walk without pain or they can return to work and lead a normal life."

She said the most difficult part of her job was that there is no room for error when operating on the brain.

"I tell my patients all the time that I am not God and I can only do my best. But I am always conscious of the fact that I have the ability to make people lose their sight, their ability to walk and talk and that would change their lives."

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