In 2017, Ncumisa Jilata became Africa’s youngest neurosurgeon at 29-years-old, after completing a five-year fellowship at the University of Pretoria located in South Africa.
Dr. Jilata’s medical journey began in 2003 when she was in the 11th grade. Her rigorous path included a packed course schedule of condensing three years of biology into just one year.
“I was already in Grade 11 when I decided I want to be a doctor, but at the time I wasn’t doing biology, so when I got to matric I had to do three years of biology in one year, in addition to the subjects I had already selected from Grade 10,” she told Dispatch Live.
During her time in high school, Dr. Jilata developed a fascination with the brain and the neuron, which would ultimately lead her to set her sights on becoming a neurosurgeon.
“During that period I discovered the concept of a neuron, which is amazing, and the fact that society as a whole is influenced and controlled solely by the existence of this structure, intrigued me. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a neurosurgeon,” she said.
Dr. Jilata went on to earn her Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB) degree in 2009 at Walter Sisulu University’s Faculty of Health Sciences. She went on to complete a year of community service, a two-year internship, and also served as a medical officer.
Along with her tough courseload, Dr. Jilata also had to fight against the stigmas associated with being a woman in a male-dominated field.
“It’s common to be second-guessed as a woman but one’s work ethic will always speak volumes. I had to sweat to break through barriers of patriarchy to pave the way for other young women – especially those from the rural former Transkei – to give them someone to look up to,” she said.
Dr. Jilata credits Dr. Coceka Mfundisi — the fourth Black South African woman to work in the field of neurosurgery — for paving the way and providing mentorship for her.
“My support system was Dr Coceka Mfundisi, who broke most of the barriers for me so that my time as a registrar was smoother than it would have otherwise been,” she explained, in reference to her time as a medical officer.
Dr. Mfundisi spoke highly of her colleague, Dr. Jilata, and supported her climb to become a neurosurgeon.
“I was the only woman among men and when she told me she wanted to be a neurosurgeon I could already see her working with me at the University of Pretoria, where she later joined me. Ncumi’s success is a proud moment for the impoverished community of the Eastern Cape and a victory for every woman, especially because she did everything in record time, at a very young age,” said Dr. Mfundisi.
Congratulations to Dr. Jilata on her accomplishments in the field of medicine, and thank you for paving the way for future Black women.