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Dr Tshepiso Choma shares how she made a success from studying a degree in medicine

Dr Tshepiso Choma grew up in the township of Soweto in a loving family consisting of her very supportive parents, a younger brother and an older sister. She studied a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery at the University of Pretoria in the faculty of health sciences. She graduated in 2014 and since then she served two years of internship at Chris Hani Baragwaneth. This was a lifelong dream of hers to work in one of the most pivotal hospitals in her township and in the continent and serve her one-year community service at Pretoria West District Hospital. Since her graduation she obtained several certifications including certificates in Basic Life Support, Advanced Cardiac Life Support and Paediatric Advanced Life Support. She also completed a course in complicated HIV and HIV resistance management. She is currently working at Steve Biko Academic Hospital in the department of Medical Oncology and her hope is to specialise to become a Clinical Oncologist. She says the greatest contributor to her success is her Christian Faith. Read more about how Dr Choma navigated through university and managed to make a success of her exams below:


              Dr Choma and her husband, Mr Marvin Choma

  1. What does education mean to you?

Education is the single most important aspect in my life as I have seen how it has changed not only the trajectory of my life but the benefit to my community and the legacy to my family. Being one of the few people to attend university in my maternal family has been one of the greatest honours I have achieved and the pride my family have in me is a constant reminder to keep striving to do more. I believe that a quality, comprehensive education is the one gift that every child deserves to have and its one of my future aspirations to be involved in changing the landscape of basic education in poorly resourced areas.


  1. Why did you choose to go into medicine?

My role models growing up were Mother Theresa and the philanthropist, theologian and missionary doctor Dr Albert Schweitzer.  They were the quintessential examples for me of individuals who, through their faith and skills in medicine, were able to touch the lives of many not only spiritually but more importantly physically. Since then I decided that the one way I could best serve humanity was through the ministry of healing. That’s how I chose to do medicine, it was really a way for me to feel closer to God and to feel I had a purpose.


  1. Looking back do you feel you medicine was the right choice?

Many times I felt overwhelmed by the length of my studies ( a very long 6 years with an additional 4-5 years to specialise) and when I started working, the environment was demotivating because of the lack of resources, hard hours and strenuous nature of the work. But despite all that I am happy that I have the academic background I have and I have grown to appreciate what I can still do with my degree.


  1. Do you think it’s possible for someone to be in the wrong field of study?

Absolutely, but I also think that it is never too late to change your field of study or go back and to study something completely different. Forging a career isn’t only about the degree you study, but it’s also about your experiences, how you see your life in future and how you develop the impact you feel you want to make in the world. Some of the people I respect most highly are those who were not limited by what they studied and those who expanded, changed or grew from the fields they had studied. One such personal icon is Dr Mamphela Ramphele who obtained a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB) from the University of Natal then a B.Comm. in Administration from the University of South Africa amongst other meritorious qualifications. With these qualifications from vastly different fields she managed to hold prestigious positions from being the first black female vice chancellor of a South African university (a position she held at the University of Cape Town) to becoming the first South African to hold the position of one of the four Managing Directors of the World Bank. A medical doctor becoming the head of the biggest financial institution is evidence enough that your field of study need not limit the potential of your success.


  1. What would you say to that person who is experiencing those depressing thoughts because they feel they are in the wrong field of study bearing in mind exams have started or are around the corner? How would you motivate them?

I would motivate them to continue with all the strength they have and complete their studies. No matter what challenges they face in their current studies they will always encounter other challenges despite whichever field they may change to. In essence nothing is ever going to be easy but persevering and completing what you start gives you a platform to grow and to have access to greater opportunities. Also failing a module, subject or year is not a marker of their intelligence or future potential; it’s an opportunity to recognise their weaknesses and to focus on improving them. There is no ideal time to finish any course so forget the pressure. Do your best and be willing to dust yourself up and try again. A persevering spirit always prevails.


  1. There is no smooth academic journey, what are some of the obstacles that you’ve had to overcome? How did you overcome them?

My greatest obstacle was funding throughout my tertiary studies, so to support myself I spent three years of my degree working as a waitress and assisting in the university’s skill lab. Although, my studies sometimes suffered because of the extra hours I was putting in to work; I kept on persevering despite and managed to make it.


  1. Has your upbringing affected your academic journey in anyway? If you feel it limited you in anyway, how did you move past those boundaries?

Yes, I am grateful my parents believed in education and supported me as much as they did throughout my journey. Despite the financial limitations I sometimes may have faced, the support of my family emotionally allowed me to look past the difficulties.


  1. Time management is imperative in a student’s life. How did you manage your time between exams? Especially, if they were close to each other.

I always have a study schedule planned well before exam season! I treated every day like it was exam season right from the beginning of the year to spread the work out evenly and I worked consistently every day instead of trying to squeeze everything into a very short exam period. A little work done every single day (yes, even weekends) goes a really long way.


  1. Fear is one of the biggest hindrances to success. How did you get over the fear of asking for help when you didn’t understand the work you were studying?

For me fear is very similar to pride and the only way to overcome that fear was to be humble. For as long as you hold the pride that you don’t want people to think you are a failure or stupid, you won’t get the help you need. One of my favourite Chinese proverbs reads: “a man who asks a question is a fool for five minutes, but a man who does not ask a question remains a fool forever”. These words have always stuck with me so be willing to humble yourself and admit your shortcomings so that you can gain true wisdom.


  1. Quotes are motivation for a lot of students. Do you have any quote which has kept you going in your journey? And who is it by?

This isn’t really a quote but a latin mantra that I live my life by: “Age quod agis”- it means “do what you are doing”. What this really means is that no matter how small or big or insignificant a task may seem you should do it with inspiration and dedication. I love that because it speaks to work ethic- always do your best and give your all into everything, even to things that don’t bring merit, honour or recognition. You never know when your efforts and consistency will be recognised and truly rewarded.



  1. How did you get over procrastination and exam stress?

I don’t think it’s something any student ever really gets over (she laughs). You have to try and be disciplined but also realistic. I always used to schedule time in my study schedule for fun activities and even time for procrastinating.


  1. In summary, what words would you like to extend to students writing exams?

You are loved and you are already a success by having made it into the field of study you are studying. Don’t forget that all the pressure is internal and that no matter how long it takes you will fulfill your purpose in this world if you don’t give up. You have a whole life outside your studies family, friends and those you encounter every day and your true worth is not in whether you pass or fail your exams but it’s in your very presence in the lives of those around you. Don’t let the fear of failure fool you into discouragement, loneliness, fear and anxiety but remember that you always have a second chance and that failure is an opportunity to only achieve greater success.