Matters of the heart and helping people is Dr Martin Mpe’s passion. He decided to become a cardiologist during a very tumultuous time in apartheid-era South Africa, and although times were tough, his drive to become a heart doctor never wavered. Instead, he showed a resolute determination to employ his exceptional intellectual abilities in the service of others.
He became a cardiologist after finishing medical school at Medunsa and working for many years in Polokwane, Limpopo, and in Tshwane, Gauteng where he devoted his life to helping people with cardiac issues.
Education under difficult conditions
Mpe attended Rakale Thabong Primary School in Ga-Rankuwa from 1974 to 1976. During his primary school days, students from different grades such as Sub A and Sub B (grades one and two), would be combined. Sometimes, one grade needed to move under a tree to make space for another grade when necessary.
As a Pedi, he had some knowledge of Venda, as the two groups lived in the same area. However, when his parents moved to Pretoria in 1974, he was compelled to learn Setswana. He explains that his family relocated multiple times between Limpopo and Pretoria during the turbulent period of apartheid riots.
“After the removals that took place in the Pretoria townships, I found myself once again focusing on learning the Setswana language.”
Mpe graduated from Lethabong High School at the age of 16, skipping grades due to his strong performance.
Unexpected tertiary education events
Mpe was selected for the Rotary Scholarship and was supposed to go to California City in the United States in September 1985. However, due to unforeseen circumstances, he was unable to make the trip.
Though it was a disappointment, Mpe was determined to make the most of the situation and continue to pursue his goals. He remained focused on his education and worked hard to excel in his studies. Despite the setback, he never lost sight of his dreams and continued to work towards achieving his goals.
“I had January to September to keep myself busy. I decided to go and do pre-med courses, so I went to the University of the North”.
Upon arriving at the university, Mpe found the campus in a state of chaos and disorder. There were protests and disturbances, which made the learning environment challenging and even unsafe.
Following the events at the university, Mpe decided to apply for medicine at several universities, including the Medical University of South Africa (Medunsa), Wits University, and the University of Natal. He hoped to find a university that would offer him the opportunity to pursue his dream of becoming a doctor.
“Luckily for me, I was accepted at all three universities, but my choice was Wits. I thought I was going to Wits.”
During the registration process at the university, Mpe applied for residency, he was told that he couldn’t register unless he obtained permission from the city council.
“I went to the city council offices to apply for the permission to reside in town and it was turned down.” This was due to the colour of his skin and the discriminatory policies that were still in place in South Africa at the time, he adds.
Persistence pays off
Despite facing unfair and unreasonable circumstances, Mpe was able to obtain his MBChB (bachelor of medicine and bachelor of surgery) from Medunsa in 1991. He went on to earn his FCP (Fellowship of the College of Medicine) from the Colleges of Medicine of South Africa in 1999, followed by his MMED (master’s of medicine) in internal medicine from Medunsa in 2000. Finally, he completed his cardiology training at the University of Pretoria in 2001.
Mpe began his career in 1992 at Groothoek Hospital in Zebediela. He then worked at Dr George Mukhari Memorial Hospital, at a military hospital, and at Netcare Krugersdorp Hospital. He also expanded his private practice to include additional cardiologists and clinics in Limpopo and Gauteng.
“I’m running a private cardiology practice in Pretoria (Raslouw Private Hospital) and in Polokwane (Netcare Pholoso Hospital),” he explains.
Mpe was inspired by the cardiologists he worked with, who were experts in their field and helped to nurture his interest in cardiology. Under their guidance, he developed a passion for the field and decided to pursue a career in cardiology.
“I had all these role models and I just wanted to be one of the best. That’s where I drew my motivation from.”
Words of advice
When it comes to heart health, according to Mpe, people sometimes overlook the importance of simple, healthy choices in favour of convenience. For example, many people choose to drive to a nearby store instead of walking, even though walking is a healthier option. He believes that these choices can have a significant impact on our overall well-being.
He underlines the importance of a healthy weight and lifestyle for heart health. For those who are overweight, weight loss is a priority, and everyone should focus on reducing their salt, sugar, and fat intake. By making these changes, we can improve our overall health and well-being.
He points out that a career in medicine requires a strong work ethic and a willingness to work long hours, often beyond the typical 9-to-5 workday. Those who are considering a career in medicine should be aware of the commitment and dedication required.
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