Bold move pays dividends

Nitiksha Wesley did not let anything stop her from pursuing her dream

Top medical student started out with dream and determination – but no funds for university

Determined to study medicine, Nitiksha Wesley boarded a bus from Port Elizabeth to Stellenbosch University eight years ago without knowing how she would pay for her studies.

A few months later, the now 25-yearold from Gelvandale received a bursary from the Eastern Cape Department of Health and started building an impressive CV filled with achievements and firsts – including a prestigious fellowship in the United States and sought-after academic awards.

According to a statement by the University of Stellenbosch, Wesley made history in December when she became the first student to pass the new extended medical degree (seven years instead of six) at the university with distinction.

Wesley is doing her compulsory community service at Kimberley Hospital but is keen to return to Nelson Mandela Bay to be of service to her community.

“Passing medical school cum laude was always the plan. I was super excited when it worked out,” she said.

“I cried on the day the professor announced the results to the class. It was amazing to hear. I was ecstatic.”

Wesley, who grew up in Gelvandale with her mom, grandmother and three siblings, said: “We have been living in the same house since I was born at Livingstone Hospital in October 1992.”

She first went to Gelvandale Primary School and later St Thomas Senior Secondary School.

From an early age, Wesley was fascinated by the work doctors did.

“I would go with my grandmother to the local clinics and that is where I saw doctors helping and uplifting the community in their way.

“I wanted to do that too. I never really understood how they knew so much. I was amazed how someone could know the entire human body.

“It was intriguing to me,” she said. Despite completing matric with several distinctions, she was only offered a bursary for accounting. Not deterred, she took a chance.

“I was at Stellenbosch for at least five to six months before I got a bursary. I was so relieved when I got the news because of the debt I was running up. At the time it was a big stressor.”

She said moving to a new city had also been very stressful.

“I was all by myself and living offcampus. It was a challenge but I pushed through and here I am.

“I knew that education was my ticket to anywhere in the world and I was determined to write my own ticket.”

In her fifth year of studies, Wesley was offered the Feinberg School of Medicine scholarship.

The scholarship is given to the student who is most deserving academically in the fifth-year class.

“Receiving the scholarship did not automatically mean you were accepted into the Feinberg School of Medicine elective programme.

“I had to apply to their medical school to do an elective at Northwestern Memorial Hospital [in Chicago] that is affiliated with Feinberg.

“I had to send my full academic record, write two entry tests which I had to pass above 80%, and do training to comply with their ethical standards.

“I also had to write a motivation. “I applied for transplantation surgery for which there was only one international spot available.

“This meant that I was competing with other medical students from across the world.

“I did a lot of studying in the US as we did not learn much about transplants at medical school because it’s such a specialised field.

“I asked the professor of surgery to assist me with resources if he could and he happily gave me four textbooks, two ring binders with notes and two books.

“I studied these intently every day. He said I could bring them back with me to South Africa.

“I knew that I had to make the most of the experience because to me it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I was going to grab it with both hands.”

Wesley said she was now very interested in pursuing a specialist medical career as a surgeon and specifically a transplant surgeon.

“It’s life-changing surgery. I love that part of it,” she said.

“You really get the chance to make a noticeable difference.”

She said her mother was serious about academics and instilled discipline in her children from an early age.

“Doing the same while at medical school was no different from doing it at home.”

Eastern Cape health spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said the department was delighted to have helped Wesley’s dream come true.

“We are trying to invest in skills development for the future and this strategy has already started to prove beneficial to the department.

“Part of our recruitment strategy is to assist young doctors to become specialists,” he said.

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