Matie Voices

Dr Liana Roodt

Alumna of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences

“I do believe in ‘callings’ – not big dramatic Hollywood callings but a certain path that makes you feel just comfortable in your own skin and at home in the world.”

Liana Roodt is changing the lives of thousands of breast cancer patients in the public healthcare sector in the Western Cape. Looking back, she is grateful about her journey and relieved that she did not miss her calling.

She was born in Windhoek, Namibia and relocated to Pretoria with her family at a young age. Her parents are both educators and they did not push her in a certain direction. “My parents and sister were always more interested in what made me tick, what sparked my curiosity and what would allow me to be my best self.”

She started her studies in the BCom department, but quickly realised that this was not what she was supposed to do. Initially voices in that environment that steered her away from medicine. Thoughts of how long the road is for studying medicine, that it is a bad job for a woman and that healthcare in South Africa is doomed, filled her mind.

Thankfully her own voice was louder and she changed her direction to medicine. “I do believe in ‘callings’ – not big dramatic Hollywood callings but a certain path that makes you feel just comfortable in your own skin and at home in the world.”

She obtained her MBChB degree in 2006 from the University of Pretoria and then completed her internship at Groote Schuur Hospital and community service in Barberton, Mpumalanga. After returning to Cape Town, she worked at GF Jooste Hospital as a surgical medical officer.

Today she has several qualifications in the field of medicine, one of which is a Postgraduate Certificate in Integrative Medicine from Stellenbosch University (2012). Dr Maria Christodoulou, under whose guidance she obtained this qualification, made an indelible impression on her as a woman, a clinician and as a healer. “I consider her a coach, a mentor and a friend for life.” Liana also sees her patients as her teachers and sources of inspiration.

She was faced with the heart breaking, stretched out and often chaotic journeys of breast cancer patients in the public health sector and decided that something needed to be done. These women were subjected to very long waiting times for surgery and were mostly left isolated in their struggle with a cancer diagnosis. Project Flamingo was launched in 2010 with the goal to reduce surgical waiting times for breast cancer patients in the public healthcare sector and provide psychological support to these patients. The project raises funds for timely surgery for newly diagnosed breast cancer patients – currently achieved by funded ‘catch-up surgeries’ at Groote Schuur and Tygerberg hospitals – reducing the waiting time for lifesaving breast cancer surgeries. By April 2019, more than 530 patients received their surgery through Project Flamingo since their launch.

Project Flamingo also raises funds for pamper packs for all newly diagnosed breast cancer patients at the Groote Schuur and Tygerberg hospitals’ combined breast clinics. More than 4 000 of these were already handed out.

She recently made a career shift into private healthcare by opening her own private surgical practice in Somerset West, but is still employed part-time by Groote Schuur Hospital. “This has been and continuous to be a very interesting learning curve and affords me a very unique perspective on the two sides of the South African healthcare system. A bold dream would be to be a role-player in finding solutions to bridge this gap beyond Project Flamingo. For Project Flamingo the goal for now is to continue to do what we do for as long and as best as possible and to slowly increase our footprint beyond the Western Cape.”

Liana’s motto in life is to leave every place or situation a little better than how you found it. “Your presence matters – make it count.” She is privileged to have a group of strong friends and colleagues around her as well as a loving family and partner who encourages, support and inspire her. She is also a prolific reader and consider some of these wonderful books as ‘mentors’.

“How wonderful that each of us can be taught and inspired by the wisest souls in the world.” She encourages students in the health sector to be sure they know why they do it – in the wisdom of Simon Sinek: Take the time to find your ‘why’. If you don’t, the journey may become very rocky and the road ahead very murky. “Never forget that this job is not about you – it is about those you serve. That being said, never ever let anyone convince you that your wellbeing and health doesn’t matter – you cannot serve if you are not whole and healthy yourself.”

- By Elbie Els -