Medical trailblazer builds on her childhood dream
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Were she inclined to be vain, Dr Aobakwe Segwe could easily have used her looks to earn a living, comfortably. She chose to go with her brains instead. Today, the field of radiology benefits from her beauty and brains.
After graduating with an MBChB from the University of Pretoria (UP) in 2006, the vivacious young medic did a mandatory two years of internship plus another year of community service at the Helen Joseph and Carletonville hospitals, respectively. She immediately went on to become a Registrar at Wits University, doing both the Fellowship with the College of Medicine of South Africa and a Masters in Medicine in Radiology and “by 2013 I had already qualified”.
Smooth sailing indeed but no surprise really for one who, even as a young girl playing house, knew she wanted to be a doctor. “My mother says, growing up, I’d gather insects then collect leaves to give to them, as medicine,” she recalls.
Fast-forward to the present, just a few light years away from age 40, she’s a radiologist in private practice in two provinces, Gauteng and Mpumalanga.
Her investment in the practice is just around R30 million.
With state-of-the-art machines, her rooms at the Carstenhof Clinic, Midrand, are like a feature out of a high-tech medical journal.
Her work environment is consistent with a tech-savvy young person who is fascinated by the high pace of advancement in modern technology. “Even as we speak now, there’s a new machine being invented,” she says of her chosen field of medicine.
Asked about her speciality, Dr Segwe, who grew up enthralled by the wonders and functions of the brain says: “The unique thing about radiology, unfortunately, when you're still in under-grad, is it is one of those fields you don’t get a lot of exposure to. It is highly specialised. It piqued my interest very acutely while I was still in internship because initially I wanted to become a neurosurgeon or cardio-thoracic surgeon. For some reason, they would send me to radiology. I’d be intrigued by the equipment, the conversations and the clinical discussions we’d have there with the Professor, Professor Joseph, who was very nurturing and encouraging. We just hit it off.”
“Immediately after community service, I applied and I was accepted.”
The dye was cast. Her destiny was decided. She was to be Dr Aobakwe Segwe, specialist radiologist. Fate added the cherry on top – that she be her own boss, employing no less than 25 people.
Without having done any primaries, Dr Segwe says her speciality saw her finishing in record time. “I even got an award.”
Did she always want to be a doctor? “Always,” she repeats.
She only knew of GPs, gynaecologists and a few other fields of medicine, she says. “Getting into medical school is very competitive. You need to have a very good academic record. Even getting into UP was an honour. At the time, they were still trying to recruit more students of colour. It was still transitioning to an equal medium institution.”
She was an A-student. “I think of myself as charismatic, dynamic, very driven,” she says, choosing her own adjectives.
Dr Segwe laments that kids are still not exposed to these other fields. “Some of these careers they know so little about, as different options they can pursue.”
She adds: “There was no radiologist that I knew before I entered the field. Prior to medical school, I didn’t know about radiology. It was only after I got in that I got to know about it, like it.”
“I have a daughter; she is 10 years old . She inspires me. I don’t want my struggles to be the same for her. She needs to be exposed to role models. She needs to have these conversations.”
Towards that end, she is part of an NPO called Working For Good. They go out to schools, in outreach programmes, to “try normalise qualifying as doctors”. She calls the process ‘moving out of the shadows”.
Her field, which is the science of diagnosing different diseases, extends way beyond the X-rays and sonar “that we know to MRI, CT scanners, now moving into Artificial Intelligence”.
“With new technology, we have what is called Interventional Radiology. We now use imaging,” she says.
Segwe sees the height of her own career as being part of the roll-out of the National Health Insurance (NHI).
“With the introduction of NHI, I feel there’s a lack of equal access to health care. In a major metropolis like Johannesburg, patients have better access to health care than those on the periphery. I want to see, in a way, democratisation of health care. I see myself as part of that solution, with NHI, bringing health care, certain specialities closer to people.”
“The sooner a patient is diagnosed, the sooner management can be targeted towards that thing.”
She speaks passionately about how radiology is dynamic. “Your’re constantly learning new things. You talk to different fields … psychiatrist, paediatrician, etc.”
“You can specialise, like do only sports radiology,” she says. “But I always strive for choice, radiology gives me that choice. If I want to go broad, I can; if I want to narrow it down, I can.
It’s an exciting field. I love what I do.”
What does she read? “Books on radiology.”
Her husband, whom she says is very supportive, is a mechanical engineer – they supply mining equipment to the industry.
She concur that the discussions at home are varied. “Very interesting perspectives on things.”
“He cooks better than me,” she says shyly.
“We jog,” she says, giving the answer to her shapely physique.
Her name, Aobakwe, means ‘let God be praised’.
“There’s still a lot for me to do,” she says, when asked about praising Him. “There's a gap between where I am and where I want to be.”
It is difficult to see how she cannot succeed when she talks sagely about things like: “You need to do right, operate from a point of integrity.”