Women can have it all, says transplant surgeon
AT the age of 17, Elmi Muller knew she wanted to practise medicine.
Today, she is a transplant surgeon and professor at Groote Schuur and UCT Private Academic hospitals.
With Women’s Month and Organ Donor Month coming to a close, Muller said being in surgery was a “satisfying career with many possibilities”.
Muller was born in Kempton Park and attended Pretoria University. Afterwards, she and her husband, musicologist Stephanus Muller, travelled to England, where he did his Master’s and PhD at Oxford.
“This was a wonderful time – we travelled a lot and I really grew up. I realised I was quite interested in surgery and I managed to do my basic surgical exams in the UK and do a few rotations in surgical specialities… I came back to Cape Town and took up a registrar position at Groote Schuur.”
A highlight in her career was starting the HIV-positiveto-positive transplant programme in 2008.
“This was done because of clinical need: patients with HIV did not qualify for a transplant at the time. Giving them a HIVpositive donor meant they got a new lease on life.”
To be a surgeon, you must have perseverance. “It’s a long career trajectory and you need to be able to be very patient. You need attention to detail and emotional stability to deal with many patients and colleagues. You probably will struggle if you get very involved and emotional about every case.”
Being a women in medicine had its challenges. Time management was one of them, especially when her two sons were younger.
“It can sometimes be a challenge to be the only woman in the room or the only woman at the table.
You don’t realise it but men share many common spaces. The golf course, the sport events. There is an easy noncommitted social space which men naturally fall into when they talk to each other. As a woman, you are not naturally a part of this.”
Her advice to women is that it is possible to have it all – a family, children and a career.
“We rather need to bring our own gender sensibility and unique and individual perspectives to the workplace – and this applies to males and females. We should not postpone our personal lives to have a career. We should rather make them work in tandem and try to change attitudes to work so work is but an aspect of being fully human,” Muller said.