A measles outbreak sparked Dr Veena John’s interest in paediatrics

John’s research on newborns with low birth weight will help the hospital and the region eliminate HIV in paediatrics

Dr Veena John is changing the lives of children in Eastern Cape communities.
Dr Veena John is changing the lives of children in Eastern Cape communities.
Image: Supplied/Discovery Foundation

Having studied medicine at the University of Cape Town, Dr Veena John realised she wanted to be a paediatrician during her fifth year as a medical student on rotation at Somerset Hospital in Cape Town. That decision is now improving the lives of children in communities in the Eastern Cape, her home province.

John, 34, works as a paediatric consultant in the ICU at Frere Hospital in East London. She is busy completing her MMed in paediatrics with the help of a Discovery Foundation Award. Her research focuses on the prevalence of HIV in newborn babies with low birth weight.

‘Paediatrics captured my heart early’

John says she knew early on that she wanted to be a paediatrician. “It was during my fifth year that there was a measles outbreak in Cape Town. I was on rotation at the Somerset Hospital when they suddenly needed to open up extra beds and wards to cope with the influx of patients. My clinical partners and I looked after this ward, and though it was incredibly challenging, it was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had.

“I embraced paediatric rotation during my internship and spent a whole year in the paediatrics department during my community service year.”

She says being a paediatrician can be tough at times, but she has no regrets about choosing this field. “Children are fun, playful, sincere, honest and very trusting. Days can be rough, calls can be rougher, and there are tears and sleepless nights. It can be difficult not to get emotionally involved. But it’s all worth it because we want to do whatever we can for these little lives.”

HIV and newborns with low birth weight — an under-researched topic

John has always had a passion for small babies, which is why she decided to do research on newborns with low birth weight. She confirms that little information was available on the topic, but with the help of the Discovery Foundation grant, the project has been a success. The SA Journal of Child Health has accepted her research for publication.

John says that to grow as a clinician, it’s important that she is able to do and interpret research. “This award has also encouraged my colleagues to be more interested in research.” The findings of her project will help the hospital and region know where to focus their resources to achieve their goal of eliminating HIV in paediatrics. 

A family of clinician researchers

Her husband, Dr Jeff John, a consultant in the urology department at Frere Hospital, is also a recipient of the Discovery Foundation Award in 2020. “I draw inspiration from many of my colleagues and I would say my husband’s love of research has definitely encouraged me to enjoy it.”

“We have two beautiful children. Aiden is six years old and in grade 1, and Alyssa is three years old and in preschool. We love spending time together as a family and look forward to Friday night movies.”

This article was paid for by the Discovery Foundation.


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