Rachel Mnisi battled adversity - but her third attempt at matric got her into medical school

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Rachel Mnisi is now a third year medical student at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University.
Rachel Mnisi is now a third year medical student at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University.
  • Rachel Mnisi was not happy with her original matric results.
  • Then tragedy hit, and she lost her second chance at matric.
  • The third time she struck gold and got into medical school.

Rachel Mnisi and her mother were making their way to Lowveld High School in Mbombela to collect her matric results in January 2018.

Confident that she'd achieved high marks, Rachel was, however, disappointed when she saw that she had only achieved a diploma pass.

"I was so heartbroken. I missed a bachelor's pass by 1%," she remembers.

An unexpected calamity

Rachel also admits that she was not properly focused during her matric year.

She reflects:

I was too focused on the wrong things. I was with the wrong crowd. I didn't see the importance of having good matric for university. My mind was just not in the right place. My mum was sick, so she was never home. She was in and out of hospital, so I had too much freedom with no one to supervise me.

Dissatisfied with her results, Rachel decided that she would work toward upgrading her maths and science marks that year. In addition to upgrading, she enrolled for an engineering course at a TVET College in Pretoria.

However, as she was preparing for her final exams, she was confronted with an unexpected calamity.

Double loss

Just before her final mathematics exam, Rachel lost her father.

She travelled home to Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga, for his funeral.

"My father's funeral was on a Saturday. I was supposed to write my first maths paper on Friday and the second one on Monday, but I had to travel home. It did not make sense to stay in Pretoria, and I was not in a good mental state," she says.

It seemed like the end of the road for Rachel. With her father's death, she did not want to add pressure on her mother to pay for her studies while raising her brother as well.

Losing her father and the impact it had on her second chance at bettering her matric results was a double blow.

New School

After a discussion with her mother, Rachel decided that she wanted to continue trying to improve her matric results.

Rachel and her mother went to a nearby school that was a 10-minute drive away from her home in their village. Her mother stopped the first person she saw at the school and enquired how her daughter could upgrade her marks.

The man looked at Mnisi's matric certificate and suggested that she enrol at the school.

He said: 

She got 49% in physical science. If she enrols as a pupil here, it can become a distinction.
 Rachel was hesitant. She did not plan on going back to high school. She did not imagine going to a rural school when she came from a former Model C school.

"Now I have to go back to school. I was thinking about wearing school clothes, going to assembly, and school breaks. And I thought everyone was so young, and I was like an old person. I should be in varsity like my friends," she thought.

"I had just spent a year in Pretoria, and the school was a different world for me. A different environment. The facilities were not as good as at my previous high school," she says.

Her principal welcomed her, but warned her that she couldn't undermine other children in the school and that the wig she was wearing had to go.

Adjusting to her new reality 

Rachel's schooling journey started at Shanke Senior Secondary School when she was 19. Although Xitsonga was her home language, it was not offered in her previous school. She had to learn how to write it from scratch. She also had to adjust to English as she now studied it as a first additional language and not her home language. 

She would soon learn that the man who had said they could turn her 49% into a distinction was her physical science teacher.

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Her teachers supported her, and she was more focused than before.

"We would have school from 6am until quarter to five in the evening," she says. Her school would host camps, and her teachers worked until late.

"They would spend long hours teaching us. Then they'd go home. They're very dedicated. They were supposed to be with their families at the time, but they still made time to come and help us."

Third time lucky

On the day the 2019 matric results were released, Mnisi punched in her ID number on the website to review her results.

"And I saw those distinctions. I was shocked. I counted them. I wanted to see which ones I missed," she says. She received six distinctions. "I saw that I only missed a distinction in maths." 

Shortly after, she received offers from different universities. She applied to study chemistry. She decided to attend the University of Johannesburg. 

The person who applied to various universities on her behalf, however, applied for her to study medicine at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University.  

'The workload is crazy'

"I was afraid of applying for medicine. I was afraid that if I applied for it everywhere and didn't qualify, I would sit home with my results," she says. But one of her friends from Lowveld High School, who was already studying medicine, encouraged her to pursue her goal.

After sorting out administrative issues, Mnisi was enrolled as a medical student at the university.

Today, Mnisi is a third-year Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery student, and she is enjoying it.

"I'm enjoying medicine. It's fun. You get to go to the clinic. You see people. It's a lot of work. The workload is crazy, but not too challenging, even though it's a lot of studying," she says.

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