Robin Rex

Having studied medicine at Stellenbosch University, Dr Robin Rex is currently in the first year of her internship at Tygerberg Hospital. Hailing from Atlantis, Cape Town, her modest upbringing meant that education was the best tool Robin had to better her family’s circumstances.

“I come from very humble family life – I wasn’t privileged at all growing up,” says Robin. “I knew that in order to get out of Atlantis, I had to get an education. Even though I knew that my parents wouldn’t be able to afford my studies, I had to somehow find a way.” As an only child, Robin also knew she’d one day have the responsibility of taking care of her family. Yet her parents didn’t pressurise her at all. “My parents are very supportive, they just wanted me to do my best. They never had any expectations of what I’d become. They told me to do anything that made me happy, as long as I’d be able to fend for myself one day.”

Making it to medical school

Robin didn’t initially set out to do medicine – it happened almost by chance. “I got good marks for matric and then I applied for medicine,” she says. “It was one of those things, I just wanted to see if I’d get in.” Accepted to the highly competitive degree, she began following this somewhat unexpected path. “I’ve had a love-hate relationship with medicine since I was a student, but now I really love it,” she says. “I plan on specialising, either in anaesthesiology or paediatrics. I like working with children, they’re very honest and open. I also prefer people not talking too much though which is why I might work in anaesthetics. Both specialties offer a good work-family life balance which is important as I see myself having a family one day.”

Moving from university to working in a hospital has required a mindset shift, says Robin. “You go from being a student to becoming a responsible team player. You’re the treating doctor now, so you need to grow up quickly. You need to keep up to date on medical developments and study to refresh your memory – at work, you need to know things now so there’s no time to look at books. It can wear on you. The adjustment was very stressful in that regard – I now have a smaller safety net. While it’s been challenging, it’s been lots of fun too though.”

Championing integrity

She may have a smaller safety net as an intern, but Robin is still secure in the support she receives from Moshal. “At university, Moshal was always there, not just financially but also with personal issues,” she says. “They jumped in when I needed help and especially when I went through a crisis, even offering to pay for a psychologist. Now that I’m part of the alumni, they’re still checking up on me, so the support hasn’t stopped.”

In terms of the Moshal values, everything begins and ends with integrity for Robin. “My principal once told me that nobody cares about what you’re doing when everyone can see you. What you should really be focused on is what you do when no one else is looking. For me, that’s very important. You can’t be a doctor and not have integrity. You need to be able to advocate for your patients when no-one else will do it. Your patients often won’t know any better, so you need to be a beacon for them. This is what one should expect from a doctor, whether they’re working in government or private care.”

In terms of paying it forward, Robin believes that helping one person can make a huge impact. “My plan is to one day sponsor a student doing medicine. I’ve spoken to my old high school about learners who they think would be able to benefit from having half their medical school fees sponsored.”

Projecting the good

Robin’s mother is her role model. “She was a normal factory worker, but she really made something of herself. She’s now running her own business and she doesn’t have a matric or any formal education. She just has her tenacity. She’s so hardworking and doesn’t wait for handouts. That taught me that life owes you nothing, you have to make life owe you something.”

Robin knows that nothing in life is permanent, which gives her the strength to overcome any obstacles she faces. “Things are only tough for a certain period in life,” she says. “I tell myself it’s not going to last forever, that’s not how life works.  You’re going to look back and think, it was tough back then but it’s nothing now. There will be good times and bad times. The bad times are there so that you’re able to project the good and be a better person during the good times.”