Despite the hurdles, you can do whatever you want to

From slim chances of getting a tertiary education, to holding 3 specialisation degrees

Friday, August 21 2020

This Women’s Month we’re turning our focus to highlight the amazing women in healthcare in South Africa. Women like Professor Feroza Motara – whose life changed when she was awarded a bursary to study medicine at the University of the Witwatersrand. 

Feroza is now a Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of the Witwatersrand and the Head of the Emergency Department at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, however, her journey to success was not easy, having to overcome many hurdles and challenges through which she learned to lean on her values to carry her through several leadership roles. 

Early Life and Specialisation 

Prof. Motara is the eldest of six children and her parents are her inspiration. Although her father was a teacher, he always wanted to pursue a career in medicine, but had no funding. Despite difficult circumstances, Feroza pursued her dream of becoming a healthcare practitioner. This was made even more special because her dad was able to see his dream come true through his daughter’s success. 

“On matriculating in 1982, still in apartheid SA, my parents did not have the financial means to send me to university. My mum was an employee at Barclays bank (now FNB) and heard about a bursary scheme for employees’ children. I applied for a bursary and was one of fifty (out of about two thousand) applicants who won a scholarship. The award was for a BA degree. So while I wanted to do medicine there was no money for it so I did the BA Degree. While at university, my parents sacrificed hugely to ensure I could stay and finish my degree. During this time I was able to get a bursary and on finishing the BA Degree was accepted into medicine at Wits.” 

Throughout her dad’s career he made her and her siblings aware that the only way to succeed was through getting an education. He always said, “education is the one thing no one can ever take away from you”. Feroza’s mum baked and sold cakes to provide money for her studies while still holding down a fulltime job. 

“My proudest moment was graduating in Medicine and becoming a Professor,” said Motara, showing her passion for her career and her education. Feroza has achieved three specialisation degrees, one in Family Medicine, one in Travel Medicine, and lastly in Health Care Management.


On being a woman in Healthcare

In the early 90’s women studying medicine only made up about 30% of the class, and non-whites were only 30 out of a class of 230. Now, women make up at least 50% and the transformation is much more diverse. 

“I remember being called ‘nursie’ by an elderly gentleman when I was an intern in 1991 – the misconception that females can’t be specialists and head of departments is largely a thing of the past.” said the Professor. 

Feroza finds her motivation to keep learning, researching, and staying interested in her career through her role as a healthcare teacher and as a mom of her two daughters. She strives to set examples every day to those that follow her, specifically helping young women realise what it takes to be female in today's society and the challenges they have to overcome in a still very male-dominated world. 

The effects of the Covid-19 Pandemic 

One of the biggest challenges that COVID posed is that amongst all the heightened fear, anxiety, stress, and patient loads, as a woman you still have to go home and take care of your children and extended family – while ensuring that everyone remains safe. 

However, Feroza has also been able to find the positive in the pandemic, in that it has highlighted the real value of all Healthcare workers, not just doctors but the nurses and admin workers too. 

So, what is this amazing woman’s secret? Diligence and patience. “You are the maker of your destiny. Despite hurdles in your way, you can do whatever you want to – it may take you longer than you anticipated, but you can still do it with hard work and dedication.”