The balance between rewards and challenges in public healthcare was in the spotlight in this webinar, part of Integrity Icon South Africa’s ‘Meet the Icon’ series. The lively discussion took place between Integrity Icon and Oudtshoorn GP Dr Mirja Delport, Johannesburg medical officer, Dr Nokukhanya Khanyile and students from various universities. Written by Farai Savanhu


Hosted in partnership with the Danish Embassy in South Africa, the series is intended to foster conversations about integrity and also inspire young people to join the public service. It is part of a larger campaign targeting higher learning institutions that aims to prompt conversations about what integrity and accountability mean for society and the public service. 

The webinar drew students from Stellenbosch University, Wits University, the University of Pretoria and the University of Cape Town. The discussion was a look into the lives of medical doctors and public servants in South Africa and highlighted the importance of having a passion for the field. Dr Delport stressed, “It will be difficult to get through several years of medical school, having to get up at 3 AM and having 36 hour calls (without passion).” 

Dr Delport joked about how she was placed at her absolute last choice of community service hospital in Oudtshoorn, only to grow to love it and never leave. Living in such a close-knit community in a small town means she is often called for medical advice while off the clock and out on a grocery run – or much more devastatingly – has to deliver bad news to families she knows personally. She is, however, also approached by past patients who are recovering well which she finds particularly rewarding.

Dr Delport emphasised the importance of medical professionals being team players, especially in public health where patients are dependent on large medical ecosystems functioning well to provide good health services.

The medical field is notorious for long hours, pressured working conditions and – by the nature of managing peoples’ health – high risk. The doctors shed light on embracing failure, accepting personal shortfalls and being willing to learn and grow. Dr Delport sets a high standard of integrity and makes it a point to always keep her word to her patients, as this is the cornerstone of integrity for her, and the way in which she gains her patients’ trust. 

Dr Delport spoke about the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on essential workers. She let us in on the emotional and mental toll it has taken on her and she also shared her search to learn about coping mechanisms to deal with her line of work. When asked why she chooses to remain in medicine, despite these challenges, she responded by asking who would remain if she had to leave. By leaving, she would have simply shifted the responsibility to someone else, she added. 

Accountability Lab South Africa will be hosting the Meet the Icon series once a month till the end of the year. Look out for the next one on our social media pages on Facebook and Twitter.