By Lana Mathews, General Practitioner

From Urban to Rural Medicine: A Newly Qualified Doctor's Experience with Tshemba

February 2024
Volunteer story

Where did you hear about Tshemba? 

I did my internship at Rob Ferreira Hospital in Nelspruit in 2020-2021 and met some of the volunteers on weekend outings which included hiking, camping and swimming in waterfalls. I made a mental note to remember the program for when I finish my community service. 

What impact do Tshemba volunteers make in the local communities and healthcare system in the area? 

Not only are Tshemba volunteers extra pairs of hands in the hospital, they also bring fresh and innovative ideas to make a difference both in the hospital and in the community of patients and doctors alike.

How did volunteering with Tshemba after your community service training year benefit you? 

After living and working in Cape Town for a year, I really missed rural medicine; where you have a more personal relationship with patients and are able to play a more active role in their community. Volunteering with Tshemba reminded me of the very reason why I first wanted to become a doctor. It also benefitted my skillset as you often found yourself being the most senior doctor in the room. This forces you to think on your feet and not rely on a specialist’s opinion. Lastly, not having all the resources one usually has in an urban hospital requires creativity and a pragmatic approach to managing patients. 

Would you recommend that newly qualified doctors volunteer with Tshemba? Why? 

Absolutely, I would recommend any qualified doctor to volunteer with Tshemba. Practicing medicine in a rural setup is life-changing, but be warned; you might never want to leave. 

What advice about volunteering would you offer to them? 

Arrive with an open-minded approach. Hospital systems in rural and resource-poor environments are vastly different from urban ones. Take time to listen to and understand the complex and multi- faceted problems these hospitals face before you come up with a suggestion for a solution. 

Did you feel well prepared and supported by Tshemba when you were with us? 

Yes, the staff were very supportive and available at all times for questions and queries. There were also many resources available that one could consult and refer back to. 

Can you share a specific success story or positive outcome resulting from your time at Tshemba? 

Although non-clinical; the highlight for me was definitely the tree planting project we did for Mandela Day. Every department had to plant a tree in the hospital grounds and everyone’s enthusiasm was really inspiring. It was also great to see the positive impact that just 15 minutes of doing something positive as a team had on everyone involved. 

What was the highlight of your volunteer experience? 

It is impossible to choose a single highlight; the experience is a sum of its parts and everything from working in the hospital, to engaging with patients, to meeting new people and lastly living in the bush was an experience to remember. 

How did you find staying in the bush and at the lodge? 

Possibly one of the biggest reasons why I initially decided to volunteer, but definitely not the only reason why I will return. The Tshemba lodge is everything you can possibly want in a bush experience; luxurious but also blending in well with the environment. The perfect space to relax after a long day at work. 

What advice do you have for aspiring doctors looking to get involved with Tshemba and looking to contribute while waiting to find work? 

I would highly recommend aspiring doctors to look into volunteering with Tshemba. Young doctors are often burnt-out and fed-up with the health care system in South Africa after community service. And rightly so. My time at Tshemba gave me a fresh perspective on my career and allowed me to take a step back to re-evaluate what I can contribute to health care in South Africa.


By Lana Mathews, General Practitioner