Rural doctors are a prescription for good health
by Sulaiman Philip
23 October 2014, Media Club South Africa
It's a 140km round trip to the furthest of the five clinics in rural Eastern Cape's Amahlathi Municipality for Dr Jennifer Nash. This year's Rural Doctor of the Year uses the time to think, to relax, to chill. She sounds chipper as she talks: "It's my alone time. I have 20 minutes of radio reception, and then it's me and the beautiful scenery."
The roads that Nash travels may be an hour from East London but it may as well be another world. She is not tempted by the bright lights of that big city; instead, she is driven to help the impoverished population. "There are doctors who will tell you that you lose your skills working in a backwater or that the rural areas are where bad doctors go to practice. They could not be more wrong. My skills are sharper because I see so many different kinds of patients."
To illustrate her point, she tells of a missing drug order: a pharmacy order was placed; when it failed to arrive she called to track it. "They had no record of the order so we had to send it through again. But the hospital's fax machine wasn't working so I had to track down a fax in the middle of nowhere to place the order."
There are infrastructure challenges, she explains. There may be no water at the clinic, or bandages, but the dedicated people with whom she works make things happen. "My point is, challenges have made me a better doctor. Not expecting to have a working X-ray machine or gloves mean I have find ways to [make] do."
Her beat may not be in the deepest hinterlands of rural Eastern Cape, but she is one doctor keeping hope alive for thousands of patients. She draws inspiration, Nash says, from the indomitable spirit of her patients and the sense of community of her practice. "When I am out in the market I meet my pregnant mothers, their grannies and their sisters. I get to see the context in which I practice medicine. That is not something you get if you work in a city."