“They used to call me ‘neonate’ in medical school,” says Dr Sandile Khubeka, who at 21 years old is the youngest doctor to graduate in South Africa.
Thanks to a dedicated crèche owner in Newcastle, where he grew up, he was able to start grade one at the age of five, arriving at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Nelson Mandela Medical School at age 16 in 2009.
He faced a certain amount of prejudice – he was told by a number of fellow students that he shouldn’t be in medical school and would fail.
“It was a big challenge to study with people who were much older than me. I think I matured and it strengthened me. The people who told me I was too young – those were the very people who motivated me,” he says.
While at medical school, he got involved in community outreach through a club that helped people at a community clinic and through trips to rural hospitals during his holidays.
“It improved my skills and it was interesting to see how they handle cases with limited resources.”
Khubeka was also a member of the Students’ Representative Council at medical school. “I was involved in a lot of student issues – I like to see that everyone is treated fairly.” Currently he and a group of four classmates are busy setting up a trust fund to assist disadvantaged communities. The drive to help runs deep.
Not that this young man doesn’t know how to play in his rare downtime: quad biking and horse-riding are his hobbies, and “I’ll always make time for the programme Survivor – if they say they’re not going to make it anymore, I’ll have a heart attack.”
His next move? “I want to get into an internal medicine programme as soon as possible – I love internal medicine.” — Mandi Smallhorne