Growing up surrounded by strong women who strive to do and be their best has inspired Ipfi Mulaudzi to make her mark on the world – starting in her own community.
Ipfi Mulaudzi may not yet have made up her mind on which area of medicine she intends specialising in, if any – but she is clear on her chosen vocation and where she intends going with it: back to Tshitungulwane, the Limpopo village she hails from, to bring accessible healthcare to her people.
“I’m not a city person; my place is in the rural area; I want to serve my community by working in the rural areas… I don’t see myself as a doctor in the city,” declares the Wits final year medical student.
The decision was made when, at age 9, Ipfi almost blinded herself while playing. “I kept my eyes closed all day, and didn’t tell parents. When they took me to the hospital I saw all the doctors and thought: ‘Oh Wow, I wanna do that!’”
The urge was intensified by the realisation that doctors were an anomaly in her village. “You’d have to travel for an hour by bus before you could see a doctor; you’d only see nurses in my community,” Ipfi reveals. She intends changing that, in a major way. “I’m not just going back to rural areas to be a doctor, but to influence others and so that people can say: ‘This is someone who is benefiting our community.’ There has to be an impact,” she says decisively.
Ipfi intends making an impact akin to the one made on her by a variety of strong, independent women. “I’ve been surrounded by amazing women, and I want to inspire strong women to come forth in the world and do great things. My life has been influenced by amazing people who go against the odds to make things happen. You see their strength and the way they run through life. If they are fighting to make a difference, I can also do it,” she says.
Her mother, says Ipfi, is the first person she looks up to. “My mom had me as a teen, so it was a struggle for her to raise me. In spite of that, she remained strong. From the little she had, she managed to go back to school – she’s not overly qualified, but she pushes every day, and she inspires me. I don’t identify as a feminist, but I have seen the power of women in the world and powerful women in the world. I want to be counted among them.”
Ipfi counts her primary school principal as one of these women. “I had left in Grade 4; three years later, when I was in Grade 7, she came to my home to tell me of a bursary opportunity. She really believed in me – through her, I got admitted into the Sumbandila Scholarship Trust Programme.”
Ipfi was selected to be part of Ridgeway College’s outliers’ programme, which is how she met Sumbandila founder and director, Leigh Bristow – who also left an indelible mark on the dedicated young woman.
“Nothing gets in her way; if she want something, she gets it done, whether it’s struggling to find sponsors for rural kids, or proper teachers… the length to which she goes to provide for all those kids is amazing. I want to be a person who touches people’s lives like that,” says Ipfi.
Leigh also introduced Ipfi to the Moshal program, which the young aspiring doctor regards as a lifeline. “I think if I had just come to university on my own it would have been very different. With Moshal, you have someone to call on, a person in your corner, from day one. Moshal feels like my extended family. The Buddy programme made university a little more bearable,” she says.
As the first in her family to attend university, Ipfi found the experience daunting initially – but found greater reason to appreciate Moshal’s Psycho-Social Program at the beginning of this, her final year. “I started the year struggling to cope; the work was demanding, there was so much to do and it got to a point where I thought time was not my own,” she admits.
In January, Ipfi shared her feelings with her Moshal co-ordinator. “Within two weeks, they referred me to a psychologist,” she notes.
The workload is still intense: Ipfi is working in psychiatry at Tara Hospital, where a good day can end with a 7am to 4pm shift. Some nights could see her staying as late as 1am, and even overnight – and weekends can easily be taken up as well.
This has not dimmed her passion for her chosen vocation at all. If anything, the experience has confirmed for Ipfi that she is on the right path.
“In hospital, you see how much is required – but I wouldn’t change it for the world, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. I’ve come to a point where even if I don’t specialise, even if I just generalise, I’ll still be doing what I like,” she affirms.