#WomenInHealth: an interview with medical practitioner Dr Sindiswe van Zyl

#WomenInHealth: an interview with medical practitioner Dr Sindiswe van Zyl

Lodox is committed to improving health-care and recognising the many stakeholders who, through their dedication and innovation, contribute to the efficient and effective delivery of health services.  In August 2014 we celebrated National Women’s Month by honouring and identifying women in South Africa who share this commitment.

Commemorating the work of South African female health-care professionals, and with the aim of inspiring more young women to join the sciences and health-care professions in particular, we interviewed forensic pathologist Dr Linda Liebenberg, and medical practitioner Dr Sindiswe van Zyl.

Dr Sindiswe van Zyl

“I want to help people for free and being online has given me the opportunity to help people, worldwide, for free.”

Lodox first became aware of the work of Dr van Zyl – a medical practitioner with a specific interest in HIV – through her prolific community engagement on twitter. Dr Sindi provides ongoing support and health-care education through her twitter account, emails and her blogs as an HIV doctor. She has a BSc degree in human physiology and psychology, an MBChB and an HIV diploma from the University of Pretoria. Currently on a six month sabbatical, Dr van Zyl has worked as a program manager at the Anova Health Institute, an institution committed to improving the quality of public health services.


What does a typical day look like for you?  What do you do in your work hours?

I blog a lot, I blog for Health 24 and Molo magazine as an HIV doctor. Most of my time is spent replying to patients’ queries on emails, online and on twitter.  I get inquiries from people all over the world, at all hours of the day and night.


What attracted you to the work you do? And why did you enter this field?

I knew from the age of four that I wanted to be a doctor. I have always wanted to help people. I find joy in helping people.


Who inspires you? Who is your hero?

My inspiration comes from my faith in God; God plants the desires in my heart; without God I would be a selfish person.

My heroes are my mom and Winnie Mandela.  I admire what Winnie did for the country, she sacrificed her life, her calling, and that’s the most selfless thing ever.


What was your biggest challenge to getting to where you are today in your career?

The toughest challenge was missing out on family functions. I missed out on a lot because I was busy working. On my thirtieth birthday I was on call working at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital. Instead of celebrating my birthday, I was walking to the blood bank to get blood to save a child’s life.


What challenges you the most in your daily work?

I don’t have enough hours in a day. There is always someone to help. I just wish a day could be longer so that I can help all the people that seek my help.


What do you think is the biggest health challenge in Africa?

Access to treatment! Universal access to health care is the biggest challenge in Africa.

It’s all about access: access to the right doctors, the right clinic and the correct treatment.


What motivates you and keeps you going/striving for more?

I am motivated by the response I get from the people I have helped, especially mothers that thank me for having an HIV-negative baby.

I am driven by my compassion to help people that cannot get help. That’s who I am.


Do you have any advice for young women entering a career in medicine?

Firstly, you will not be happy until you do what you were born to do. I don’t believe that you can be a doctor if you don’t have compassion or love to be there for people in their time of need.

You must be willing to work extra hard: Female doctors do a bit more work than their male counterparts.


What do you do for fun or to de-stress?

I love shopping, and people watching. I love going to shopping malls, watching people shop, and I love going to the airport, watching people with their bags, wondering where they are going or who they are waiting for.

Right now I’m catching up on life, living life to the fullest, doing all the fun things I want to do.

I’m blessed that God has given me this opportunity to help people and be there for them. I was born to do this. I am living my dream and my purpose in life. I am happy.


Dr van Zyl was selected by the Mail and Guardian for their 2012 top 200 young South Africans. Read more about her here and follow Dr Sindi on her twitter account: @sindivanzyl

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