Change the world


The first year class of Nelson Mandela University’s new medical school is encouraging the matrics of 2021 to apply for next year’s MBChB course.

Applications are now open for the medical school in Gqeberha – one of only two in the Eastern Cape and 10th  in South Africa – and the deadline for 2022 applications is Wednesday June 30.

Sophisticated facilities, up-to-date technology, a small class, helpful staff and top-notch training are among the reasons 2021 matrics should apply, say the current crop of ground-breaking doctors-in-training.

“The experience that we will get is basically world class: there are doctors from all over the world in the hospitals that we’re going to be training in,” said class rep Qasim Osman, 18, who matriculated from Taxila High School in Polokwane, Limpopo, in 2020.

Like many medical school hopefuls, Osman applied at several South African universities as demand generally far outstrips supply for placement.

“It was kind of surreal as I got the call when I was at another university and had to make a quick decision on whether to move all the way across the country. I had to pack up my things and move in a weekend!

‘Amazing labs’

“When I looked into the programme the small class size and new facilities were appealing – we have amazing labs, and this is also a good city to live and study in.”

Most of the Mandela Uni MBChB class matriculated in 2020, and were drawn from schools in Quintiles 1-3.

“I was so scared and frustrated that I might not be able to go to study this year. When I got the call, I was so happy,” said Botshabelo matriculant Tshepo Mpelo, 20, who had feared the impact of Covid-19 would delay academic admission.

“Now I have a strong feeling that I'm just one step away from my lifetime goal of being a doctor,” he said.

Gqeberha matriculant Anita Ellary, 18, is loving being a “pioneer” of Mandela Uni’s new medical school.

“It’s amazing! There was obviously a lot of anxiety hearing that so many applicants were vying for so few spots, but my acceptance affirmed that the hard work I put in during my time at school paid off,” she said.

“There’s a lot of newness and uncharted waters. However, all the lecturers have been extremely approachable and willing to help.”

Second chance

A few students could not fulfil their dream of becoming a doctor immediately after school.  Potsiso Pako, 27, for example, studied pharmacy before applying at Mandela Uni in 2020.

“It’s been a long journey to finally be doing medicine now and I am overwhelmed with emotions to know that I actually made it from more than 5,000 applications,” the student from Mpumalanga said.

“This is the chance I’ve been waiting for, for a long time.

“It’s been hard to transition to being a full-time first year student again, but our campus has good facilities and great lecture halls, and it’s a good learning environment. I’ve made new friends, and having physical interactions with our lecturers has helped me a lot as they’ve been supportive.”

Natasja Botha, 35, is also a mature student. She has worked in East London for several years.

“After school I studied and qualified as a teacher, and after five years of teaching went back to study radiography,” Botha said. “Since I was a child I wanted to study medicine. I always had another excuse but I decided to try – and now we’re here!”

Kwa-Zulu Natal born Yasteel Nandlal, 19, started a BPharm at Mandela Uni in 2020 before switching to medicine this year.

“I am extremely grateful and consider myself very lucky that I was chosen to be part of this medical school,” he said.

Academic excellence

Others commented on the extensive academic programme.

“The workload is quite heavy but everything is interesting to learn. Our lecturers are approachable and want us to succeed; they’re dedicated to helping us as much as possible and communicate this clearly,” Botha said.

“There’s so much support, we have great systems to facilitate online learning and it’s very special to be part of the first cohort.”

Mpelo said the class was being challenged academically by the rigorously accredited medical school programme.

Smaller classes did help, said Ellary, and also contributed to “close-knit bonds, both as medical students and as friends”.

Centred in the community

In line with the Medical School’s primary health-care orientation, students have visited the surrounding areas of Missionvale, Govan Mbeki, Zwide, Chatty, Gelvandale and West End.

“Community visits orient us and remind us that this is where the actual work is,” said Osman.

“When we think of doctors we think of hospitals and of white coats and scrubs but that's not all that doctors do as, if we can prevent disease before it happens, it's far more effective.

“And this is especially so with the healthcare system in South Africa which is severely burdened.”

However, the resurgence of Covid-19 has called for caution and some on-site visits have been postponed until it is safer for the students and the community. 

“While initially daunting, it has been very eye-opening and humbling to visit households in these areas,” Ellary said. “I look forward to learning more (about myself and the community).

“I am truly grateful to be a part of the first cohort of students at this trailblazing medical school and I encourage all aspiring medical students to apply as soon as possible.

“There have been lots of sudden changes due to Covid-19 but, as most of us are from the Class of Matric 2020, we’re ready to embrace them!”

Written by: Gillian McAinsh

BIG DREAMS: Nelson Mandela University Medical School class rep Qasim Osman, centre back, with a few of his peers on the Missionvale Campus. Image: LEONETTE BOWER

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