We set down with Dr Majola, and got to know her and her career better.

  • Who is Dr Nonhlanhla Majola?

“I was born in Umlazi where both my parents still live. I am the youngest of 5 children. My childhood was a happy one, growing up in a tough yet vibrant township environment. We didn’t have much but my parents made sure we didn’t feel poor. There was plenty of laughter and fun but academic excellence, discipline and a strong drive to succeed in life were instilled in all of us from a young age. My fondest and most vivid memories are of my late grandmother. She was a strong woman. I credit the woman I have become to her tough, no nonsense and practical attitude to life, it continues to influence me till today. I attended primary school at Berea Primary school and high school (boarding school) at Ixopo High School. My undergraduate studies were completed at Stellenbosch University”

  • Being a doctor, was it always your first choice or you stumbled on it?

“I knew I wanted to be a doctor from as far back as I can remember. According to a childhood friend of mine I told them when I was in Grade 6 that I would become a doctor. My mother is a Nurse so I think that also influenced my career choice’

  • What factors did you consider in choosing your speciality?

“I remember in 4th year medical school being fascinated by the anatomy of the eye. Such a small organ doing such an important job. I was hooked. I also remember realising that up to that point I had never heard of or seen a black Ophthalmologist. I was so bothered by this that I set myself the challenge to change it”

  • What is an Ophthalmologist?

“In simple terms an Ophthalmologist is an Eye specialist or Eye surgeon. It is a person who has undergone a further 4 years of training after qualifying as a medical doctor to study the eye, diagnose eye related diseases and treat eye pathology medically or surgically”

  • Where do you think your interest in this career comes from?

“Every doctor will tell you that becoming a doctor is a calling. For most of us the profession chooses us and not the other way around. Always at the core is the strong desire to help people and an insatiable hunger for knowledge”

  • What is the difference between an ophthalmologist, an optician and an optometrist?

“First of all an Optometrist is not a medical doctor. Their main job is to do refractions and prescribe spectacles. As part of their training they are taught to pick up common eye diseases but they cannot treat and are thus required to refer to us. Ophthalmologists work very closely with Optometrists as some eye problems may require spectacles. We also rely on them to refer serious pathology to us as they are often the first point of contact for patients living in communities with limited health care services”

  • What does one need to study in order to be an ophthalmologist?

“You need to have done your basic medical degree (MBChB) first. Thereafter you can apply to join the 4 year Ophthalmology training programme. At the end of the 4 years you must be successfully admitted as a Fellow by the College of Surgeons of South Africa (FC Ophth) plus finish a concurrent Master of Medicine degree (MMed). Only then can you be registered to practice as an Ophthalmologist in South Africa”

  • How demanding is your job, any tough situations you have to deal with?

“Practicing medicine is generally a very demanding job. As a specialist it only gets worse. You constantly need to keep up with the ever changing and increasing volumes of knowledge because the learning never stops. You have to make difficult decisions every minute of the day. When you deal with people’s lives, health and wellbeing, nothing is ever simple. The hardest situations mostly centred on life and death issues, knowing and respecting your limitations and accepting that sometimes there is nothing you can do to help some patients”

  • What is your most significant accomplishment to date?

“Being chosen to take part in the African Ophthalmology Council’s Leadership Development Programme. Each participant is chosen to represent their country. The idea of the program is to teach us leadership skills and to groom us to one day take up influential positions so we can advocate for better eye care service delivery in our country and continent. I was honoured that they saw such potential in me”

  • Who is your role model in ophthalmology and why?

“My old boss Dr Linda Visser. She is a phenomenal woman, an excellent teacher, a brilliant vitreo-retinal surgeon and a strong leader. I hope to become like her one day”

  • Currently are there any special projects you working on, it can be for your career or community work.

“I have recently been elected onto the first Ophthalmology Society of South Africa Young Ophthalmologist Committee. I’ve been put in charge of Leadership and Advocacy portfolios. Im excited by the opportunity to work with Ophthalmologists in training, to help them navigate the tough and sometimes overwhelming training program. More importantly im excited to become involved in identifying and grooming future leaders in our field”

  • Describe family time for you and how important is it to you, to spend time with your loved ones?

“My family and I are very close and more so after the death of my brother in 2016. I am lucky that both my parents are still alive. They are very supportive and I try to make them proud of me every day. I am very close to my sister Mbali who is like my best friend. I am also engaged to a beautiful woman named Khanya Mtshali and we have a little Dachshund named Khwezi. They keep me sane and grounded. They are the centre of my universe. I’ve had to learn to prioritize them over my work which is hard because I am a workaholic. I try to include them in everything I do to maximise quality time spent together”

  • What interests do you have outside of medicine? What do you do in your spare time?

“I lead a very simple life. I love watching movies, reading, hanging out with my friends and meeting people. I’ve learned the most interesting things from talking to perfect strangers. I also like to travel and have set my sights on taking as many short and long trips as my schedule will allow”

  • What motivates you?

“What motivates me is the idea of being part of something bigger than myself, the idea of giving of myself for the benefit of others without expecting anything in return. I get the biggest joy and satisfaction when I’ve helped others. I also thrive on challenges and the harder something is, the more motivated I become to crack it. This is my drug”

  • Where do you see yourself in the coming years in your career?

“I’ve recently moved to private practice so my focus for now is to grow the business. I always had a keen interest in Oculoplastic and Orbital Surgery so that will most likely be my next challenge. I would also like to go back to my old department and teach. There are endless possibilities ahead for me and I intend to explore as many of them as I can”

  • Any advice for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps or just any general advice for the young ones out there.

“One of the most important things that people need to realise is that success hardly ever comes by accident. If you want to succeed in anything that you do you need to have a clear idea of what it is you want, lay out a plan of action and work hard(and smart) until you achieve your goal. Another thing I have learned over the years is the importance of surrounding yourself with the right people, stick with people who will get you to where you want to go and lastly to always stay humble, because you are never more important than the person next to you”