Women can have it all, says trans­plant sur­geon

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - HEALTH - TANYA PETERSEN

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.

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