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14 December 2021 Photo Supplied
For Dr Katleho Tsilo, one of the latest graduates from the University of the Free State (UFS) Faculty of Health Sciences says graduating from medical school is a dream come true for her and her family.

For Dr Katleho Tsilo, one of the newest graduates from the University of the Free State (UFS) Faculty of Health Sciences, graduating from medical school does not only represent the answered prayers, persistence and sheer grace, it is also a dream come true for her and her family.

Dr Tsilo graduated on Monday 13 December 2021 during the UFS’ year-end graduating ceremonies. 

“It still feels unreal that I was able to overcome the greatest challenge that I was presented with. In my entire medical school career, I have faced many great challenges, from not having any kind of funding at all, to initially not being accepted into medicine to really having to fight for my position each and every semester while also fighting with and for my fellow students in the various leadership positions aforementioned. 

“There were moments of weakness where I wished to just quit it all, but with support from the faculty and my family, I managed to hold on. My dream was and still is bigger that any challenge that I have ever encountered,” says Dr Tsilo. 

Had various leadership positions

During her student years, this Botshabelo native engaged in various leadership positions. She also had to overcome numerous obstacles including the imposter syndrome. According to her, coming from a poor background, with very little resources, she sometimes felt insecure about what she could offer and what she is capable of. Being a health worker during the COVID-19 pandemic was also very challenging because of the uncertainty of everything and how dangerous the work environment in the hospital was proving to be.

“I was privileged enough to be elected as part of the MSA (Medical Students Association) in the Academics portfolio, this is where I then came up with the idea of collecting textbook donations and gifting the less privileged students. I was also elected to be part of the Residence Committee of the new Health Sciences Residence, in the Finance Portfolio.”

Can’t imagine doing anything else

Though she did not always want to study medicine, she ultimately decided on this field as she could not imagine doing anything else. She believes it is a calling, as she always wanted to live a life full of purpose and helping other people. Helping put a smile on someone’s face when they are going through illness is enough to change one’s life, explains Dr Tsilo about her decision to study medicine. She will be doing her internship at the Leratong Hospital in Krugersdorp, Gauteng.

Dr Tsilo, who is hoping to go into Health Science Education or Public Health, says her motivation comes from her family background. “Having been surrounded by poverty for the greater part of my life pushed me to become the difference. I was and still am determined to not be another statistic. Another thing that really motivates me is being of some help to someone. I cannot change the whole world at one time but I can surely start with one person at a time. I believe so much in the power of giving, whether knowledge, time or resources So much that I started my own foundation: the Open Hands Foundation.”

According to Dr Tsilo, her journey to graduating was intimidating – having to adjust to being a student was already tough, however adjusting to being a medical student proved to be a whole new level of challenging. It came with a lot of late nights and very early mornings, months without seeing her family and having almost no luxurious pastimes. 

But she persevered because she always had a goal and was determined to reach it. She had a vision to complete this degree and do it in record time and that’s exactly what she did. “Your vision should always fuel your mission,” says Dr Tsilo. 

Besides medicine, her other passions include charity work – something she has been doing right through her student years. 

Passion for charity work 

“I love charity work and if you did not find me studying, that’s what you would find me, doing. Open Hands is where I exercise this passion. I collect clothes, shoes and food items for the less privileged in our communities.
To students struggling and also facing difficulties, I have this simple message: Don’t stop. Don’t stop working hard, don’t stop hoping and dreaming and if you need help of any kind, it is always available. Know that you are not struggling alone, struggle is part of the journey – it always seems impossible but as long as you don’t stop you will eventually reach your destination.”

Prof Lynette van der Merwe, who took up her new position as Academic Head in the Division Health Sciences Education, Faculty of Health Sciences on 1 December 2021, congratulated the new cohort of UFS doctors and reminded them of the three Cs in the MBChB programme in 2021 – courage, conviction and compassion. She also proposed a new “C” for the year ahead: Character.  

“Character is seen in how you treat those who can do nothing for you. It takes time to develop, and only grows through suffering and failing; no shortcuts, no life hacks here. Character makes you seek to be worth knowing, rather than well known. Adam Grant says: ‘Meaning is about making a difference, not having an audience. Your legacy is not how many footprints you leave.  It’s how long they last.’ Wherever life takes you from here, whatever happens to you or through you, do what is right, not easy. Be a person of value, not success.”

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