Meet Dr. Nolubabalo Nqebelele, the first black woman to possess PhD in Internal Medicine who grew up in an informal settlement in South Africa

In her career she has won several local and international medical awards and scholarships. Including; the Noristan Award for Best Medical Student in 1995 and the Ken Huddle Clinical Role model award 2018.

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  • Dr. Nolubabalo Nqebelele, a South African, is the first black woman to possess a Postgraduate Doctoral Degree (PhD) in Internal Medicine having recently graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand.
  • Hailing from the humble township of Ikhwezi in the Eastern Cape, Dr. Nqebelele had nothing more but a dream of one day studying medicine at the University of Cape Town (UCT) but that was it.

Dr. Nolubabalo Nqebelele, a South African, is the first black woman to possess a Postgraduate Doctoral Degree (PhD) in Internal Medicine having recently graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand, a top South African college, a feat no black woman in history had ever managed to achieve until now.

A Doctor of Philosophy is the highest academic degree awarded by universities in most countries.

Her journey to the top of medical world was, however, anything but a walk in the park.

“Finding a voice as a young female in a space that is dominated by men was one of the hardest things. It was even harder to navigate the space as a black woman,” she told The Sowetan.

Hailing from the humble township of Ikhwezi in the Eastern Cape, Dr. Nqebelele had nothing more but a dream of one day studying medicine at the University of Cape Town (UCT) but that was it.

She credits much of her success to her learned parents as her father was a lawyer and mother was a nurse.

Growing up, Nqebelele spent a lot of time in the local hospital with her mother and that’s where her love for medicine was planted and nurtured. She would later go on to qualify as a doctor at the University of Cape Town in 2000, and thus began her medical career.

She is especially grateful to one Professor Emeritus Saraladevi Naicker, who mentored her and provided her with hands-on guidance.

"There have been many women before me who could have achieved the same qualification. Women doctors face social pressures and professional prejudices on their path to becoming specialists." She said in an article published on Wits University's website.

Dr. Nolubabalo Unati Nqebelele now joins a select group of not more than 10 Physicians in South Africa who hold PhDs in Nephrology.

She is also the first Black woman to attain this Doctorate at University of the Witwatersrand following other medical women firsts at the University that include pioneer Dr. Mary Susan Malahlela; the first African woman to qualify as a medical practitioner in South Africa.

In the same vein, her research has been recognised by various institutions including, the South African Medical Research Council's National Health Scholarship Programme, the US-based Carnegie Foundation, the AstraZeneca Research Trust, the David Hepburn Memorial Award and the KwaZulu-Natal Kidney Foundation and National Kidney Foundation/Adcock Ingram Research grant.

Going forward, Dr. Nolubabalo Unati Nqebelele, who is now a specialist nephrologist in chronic kidney disease, is determined to revolutionized the healthcare industry by working to ensure healthcare is accessed by all and sundry since after all it is a basic human right.

“When an institution does not provide equal health care to everyone and does not relentlessly work and make changes‚ it is committing structural violence against its clients.”

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