'While looking after cows I would imagine myself saving lives' - KZN doctor shares his incredible story

Dr Nhlakanipho Mkhize
Dr Nhlakanipho Mkhize
Image: Supplied

Dr Nhlakanipho Mkhize was just five years old when his mother took her last breath as he slept next to her on the bed they shared.

Some 15 years later, when he discovered her death certificate and learnt the cause of her death, he was determined to pursue a career as a doctor.    

"She had been sick for a while and as a child I did not know what was wrong with her. I subconsciously wanted to know and save her because I felt like not enough was done to assist her," he told SowetanLIVE's sister publication TimesLIVE on Wednesday.

Mkhize shared his story on social media, explaining how he had already completed a degree in Bachelor of Sciences and had started a career as a scientist when he decided to ditch this path and return to his true calling of being a doctor.

Born and bred in a small village in Emandeni, KwaZulu-Natal, Mkhize said that when he looked back he was proud of what he has achieved despite the hardships he endured.  

Mkhize was raised by his illiterate grandmother, who sold fruit and mats for a living. When his mother died, he had a brother who was only 10 months old at the time.  

"Growing up, I remember how I went to look after the cows at a nearby kraal. I would sit alone in a corner somewhere and imagine myself wearing a white coat, saving people’s lives," he said.

In 1992, Mkhize passed matric and qualified to study medicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal - but his marks were not good enough for him to enroll as a doctor.

“At the time, there was a very strict criteria of who was allowed to study medicine and very few universities accepted black people,” he said.

Mkhize was unsuccessful with his application to study medicine and was forced to enroll for a Bachelor of Sciences qualification, which he competed in record time.

“I was lucky enough to secure a scholarship because there was no way my grandmother could afford to finance my education,” he said.

After the completion of his studies, Mkhize secured a job as a scientist through his sponsor.

“It was a good job, I was well paid. But deep down I knew that I was destined to become a doctor,” he said.

It was at the age of 28, after an altercation with his boss, that he handed in his resignation letter and applied to enroll for medicine – with no other plan to survive.

“I only had a plan for a year but nothing after that. I think my faith sustained me,” he said.

A well-paying job and a car were some luxuries that Mkhize forfeited after his resignation to become a full-time student once again.

“I had to endure ridicule and gossip, while some people assumed that I was setting myself up for failure,” he said.

Mkhize recalled how his Unemployment Insurance Fund money from his previous employer covered only his first year of study.

“I had to sell my car to fund the second year and by the time I reached third year, I had exhausted all the possible plans. But I soldiered on. My name was miraculously on the NSFAS [National Student Financial Aid Scheme] list, which I had not applied for, but I asked no questions and submitted my documents,” he said.

While his finances were sorted, Mkhize recalled how he sometimes went to bed on an empty stomach because it was almost impossible to survive on his R400-a-month allowance.

“At some point I would eat noodles from Monday to Sunday, because R1,200 shared over three months was not enough to also buy books,” he said.

Despite years of struggling, Mkhize now looks forward to each day - because he has an opportunity to make a difference doing what he loves.

"It’s been a long journey. People only see the final product not knowing there is a story behind a person,” he said.

“Sometimes one has to go through fire and see flames before everything falls in place. I look back and think, had I not gone through the troubles, I would not be the kind of man I am today,” added Mkhize.

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