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Eye specialist hopes to spot gaps in specialist healthcare training

Dr Sandika Baboolal has a clear vision of how support for health-care workers and youth empowerment programmes can improve SA

Dr Sandika Baboolal.
Dr Sandika Baboolal.
Image: Supplied/Discovery Foundation

Dr Sandika Baboolal is a consultant ophthalmic surgeon with a passion and interest in medical and surgical education. Her work in this area received an Academic Fellowship Award from the Discovery Foundation to support her research. 

Baboolal has a sub-speciality surgical interest in glaucoma, a group of eye conditions that damage the optic nerve. During her PhD, she hopes to transform the time-based apprenticeship model of specialist training to a competency-based model in alignment with global best practices. 

But her interest in strengthening SA specialist programmes stretches beyond medical knowledge into the field of non-technical and holistic skills.

“I want to make a global contribution to medicine in mentorship, medical and surgical education, eye care services, research and curriculum development,” she says.

A new way of training specialists

With her PhD research, Baboolal wants to identify gaps in the registrar training programme across all specialities, and to suggest possible solutions.

“I aim to develop policy guidelines for the national integration of competency tools in the training programmes for specialist trainees, and to develop a future generation of specialists who are also competent in non-technical skills such as communication, collaboration and leadership.”

Baboolal was born in Durban as the third of four children, and matriculated from Durban Girls’ High School with seven distinctions. That was certainly not the end of her achievements, despite losing her parents at a young age. She was the class valedictorian at the end of her final year of studying medicine at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

“My father was a doctor. I spent much time in his practice. My mother was a teacher. They were the first people who taught me about the value and healing power of unconditional love.”

She completed her internship at Groote Schuur Hospital in the Western Cape, and did her community service in rural KwaZulu-Natal. She then specialised in ophthalmology at the University of Stellenbosch and returned to her alma mater in Durban as an academic consultant and honorary lecturer.

Baboolal supervised the surgical and clinical training of ophthalmology registrars, and has delivered several specialist clinical services in neuro-ophthalmology, cornea, glaucoma and uveitis, a form of eye inflammation. She has also lectured optometry students. 

A holistic view on life and healing

Her interests go far beyond academia, though. “Early in my career, I recognised that health-care workers need support. Caring for carers is an important focus. I have trained as a facilitator for values in health care, which is a modular development programme that addresses this.”

“The programme aims to improve the quality of health care by uncovering skills and tools within each health-care worker, to strengthen their inner resilience in their working environment,” she says. “It’s an international programme, which has been modified to better address the challenges and needs of public health-care practice in SA.”

Dedication to youth empowerment programmes

Baboolal is also interested in youth empowerment. “I would like to inspire the youth to make positive social changes. I have worked with young people living with HIV and helped them become mentors for those around them living with the disease.” 

She was part of the International Youth Forum, a non-governmental organisation where young people inspire others in personal and social transformation. They develop and nurture inner values that empower young people to face social and developmental challenges.

In 2010 and 2011, she represented SA at the International Conference for Youth in India. Since then, she has participated in several conferences and programmes that have taken her across the world, most notably to Antarctica.

At her wedding, a friend mentioned that even among people who have a lot of impressive achievements, nobody else in the room could say that they had been to the South Pole. 

“Spiritual exploration and the development of a holistic view of life and healing — these aspects are all essential parts of my journey,” says Baboolal. 

This article was paid for by the Discovery Foundation.

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