Being named Africa’s youngest neurosurgeon at 29 is a dream Dr. Ncumisa Jilata perhaps never thought could become reality but determination and consistency aided her in achieving this feat. The history-making feat followed Jilata’s consummation of her fellowship for the Council of Neurosurgeons of South Africa in 2017.
Dr. Ncumisa Jilata’s inspiring adventure to becoming the youngest neurosurgeon in Africa began in 2003 when she was in her eleventh grade. Determined to fulfil her aspirations, the South African had packed in three years of biology in one year in addition to the subjects she had chosen from grade 10.
Jilata found the concept of a neuron during that period, which she referred to as amazing, and the fact that society as a whole is influenced and controlled primarily by its existence intrigued her.
“That’s when I realized I wanted to become a neurosurgeon,” she said. “All the body parts made sense to me but the brain really grabbed my attention. Everything starts with the brain – walking, writing, ruling the world. The brain is the seat of the soul and I wanted to find out more about it.”
According to reports, Jilata graduated in 2009 obtaining her Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB) degrees from the Faculty of Health Sciences at the Walter Sisulu University, followed by an extra two years of internship, a year of community service and two more years as a medical officer (registrar). Jilata would also spend five years as an intern with the University of Pretoria simultaneously to train as a neurosurgeon.
Jilata also had to wrestle her way through the male-dominated field to prove she deserved being at the table.
“It’s natural to be second-guessed as a woman but one’s work ethic will always speak louder. I had to outworn myself to break through barriers of patriarchy to pave the way for other young women, particularly those from the rural Transkei to serve as their role model” she said.
When Jilata was named the continent’s youngest brain surgeon in 2017, there was a record of 150 other female doctors and medical residents working in the neurosurgical field across Africa, the World Federation of Neurological Societies reported.
Jilata further said she was inspired by Dr. Coceka Mfundisi, one of the first black South African women to qualify in the neurology field.
“I was the only female among male-dominated fields and when she informed me of her desire to be a neurosurgeon, I could already see her working with me at the University of Pretoria, where she later joined me. [Her] 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 young age,” Dr. Coceka said of Jilata.