In a world where dreams often collide with the reality of limited opportunities, some stories stand as a testament to determination and drive. One such story is that of Dr Pamela Mahlangu, a remarkable individual who defied all odds and transformed her life from working as a domestic worker to saving lives.
Today, she stands tall, not only as a testament to her success but as an inspiration to countless others who dare to dream.
Born in Durban in an area called Phoenix, Mahlangu describes her childhood as fun and loving. She was raised by a single mother because her parents separated in her early teen years and later divorced when she was in university.
Putting food on the table
With an unshakeable belief in her abilities and being the type of person who prefers to get things done for herself, Mahlangu worked part-time as a domestic worker for 10 years to put herself through university while helping her family put food on the table.
“I started working as a domestic worker when I was 13. A lady at church who was working at Psalm Springs village in an estate at Mountedgecombe asked me to help her with the dishes for Christmas dinner at her workplace. I gladly took up the offer and continued to work there during the holidays, even after she had retired.
Chasing the doctor’s dream
“It didn’t make me much, about R100 a day, which helped with some of my basic expenses and toiletries. I believe that experience makes me more humble and understanding of people from all walks of life. Despite my current status, I can still relate to all kinds of people from all social classes and all race groups without looking down on any.”
The Johannesburg-based doctor says she continued doing domestic duties at the estate until she graduated from the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s medical school in 2017.
“I have a passion for people and their well-being. I have been a doctor since 2018. I drive for about an hour to Tembisa Hospital and see patients, both critically ill and stable. There, I manage anything from simple hypertension to the most severe cases, such as heart attacks.
“Currently, I am working within the internal medicine department as a medical officer; however, I am looking into specialising in dermatology,” she explains.
Bumps along the way
The path to becoming a medical doctor was not without its challenges; balancing the demands of coursework, clinical rotations, financial pressures, and judgement was not always easy, but it has taught Mahlangu many lessons and skills.
“Whenever I told my varsity friends about what I do during the holidays, they would ask me if there wasn’t anything better to do. But for me, I took it as a job like any other, which has taught me to be neat and always clean up after myself after a bloody and messy procedure.
“Although the field is tough, physically gruelling, and emotionally intense, people die every day. On some days, I feel like I could have done more, but I am so glad that every day I wake up to make someone else’s life better.”
Even though she has already reached so many milestones, she never stops learning. Graduating with a diploma in HIV management at the College of Medicine South Africa in May this year has been one of Mahlangu’s proudest moments.
“I am also working towards specialising in dermatology and being an influential academic in the health space,” she adds.
Mahlangu advises people doing jobs that are often looked down on who want to pursue a career in the health field that anything is possible. She says you have to work towards your goals and take small steps in the right direction.
Get the Health For Mzansi newsletter: Your bi-weekly dose of kasi health, wellness and self-care inspiration.