Zimbabwe’s first female neurosurgeon speaks on the challenging profession

Dr Sharon Soko of Parirenyatwa Group
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THE first female neurosurgeon trained in Zimbabwe, Dr Sharon Soko of Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals has proven her mettle in a male-dominated space.

Today we celebrate Dr Soko, who attributes her achievements to the country’s Manpower Development Programme which allows medical professionals to further their education while at work.

Becoming a neurosurgeon is extremely hard as the programme stretches for more than a decade involving multiple medical degrees, years of intense study and difficult examinations.

It takes between 13 and 16 years to qualify.

It is undoubtedly one of the most difficult medical specialties, not to mention the job itself as it deals with the brain, spinal cord and nerves.

Only a few have dared to take up this specialty and among the brave is Dr Sharon Soko, the only female neurosurgeon trained in the country.

“It holds a very dear place in my heart because in as much as I said that I wanted to be a doctor growing up, I wasn’t so sure what kind of a doctor I wanted to be, but when I was 13 my mom had what we thought was a stroke, she couldn’t talk she couldn’t walk it was a pretty scary experience for a 13-year-old at home with a mom who was like that,” narrates Dr Soko.

“When she was taken by the ambulance to Mutare Hospital and transferred to Parirenyatwa in Harare, to us that was bad news and when were told that she did not have a stroke, but she had a growth in her brain, what they called a brain tumor, in our minds it was like mum was gone.

“She went for an operation and when she came back she could talk to us, she could identify us and to me that was a miracle. In my head I was like this doctor is a miracle worker and I was so interested in knowing what the doctor was and that’s when I was told that these people are called neurosurgeons.

“We were told the tumor would return since they did not manage to remove all of it, but we had a year with Mhamha. Unfortunately exactly after a year the tumor did come back and it was severe this time and she did not make it. I wasn’t discouraged, but I was more encouraged to think I could be instrumental in giving a young girl out there or another young boy out there another chance to be with their mom.”

From a bio-chemistry degree and later on medicine, the 14-year journey to become a neurosurgeon had its own trials and tribulations, especially being the only female in a male-dominated industry.

“It’s an overwhelming feeling honestly speaking it can be intimidating at the start, but like I said I was so determined to become a neurosurgeon, it was a long journey, the long working hours, but I knew that was where I wanted to be and I wanted my mentors and the seniors in that field to know this is what I want and I am willing to put in the hours.

“Being a girl in that field was intimidating and other doctors would ask me neuro why? Because it wasn’t common it was difficult, but I told them that’s what I wanted to do. It’s a beautiful feeling to think that I dreamt this, I wanted this and I am here. I wanted to do this for my mom and to prove that ladies can also do this,” she said.

Dr Soko says she owes her success to the government and her employers at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals.

“I was officially employed by the government so when you want to go and further your studies they need to allow you a leave while you are still employed to allow you to go and further your studies so the government made it possible to have that manpower development leave, the minister at the time and our current minister have made it possible for medical practitioners to be allowed that study leave and now I am back at a government hospital to offer my services to people who cannot afford to go to private hospitals,” said Dr Soko.

Despite the long hours involved in neurological surgeries and the long list of patients waiting to undergo such operations at public hospitals, Dr Soko says she does not regret her choice of profession, specialty and place of work as she believes it is her turn to give back to society.