When Dr Randall Ortel gets tired, he pulls out a copy of the oath that he made as a medical undergraduate at Stellenbosch University (SU) and gives it another read. “It reminds me of my commitment to lifelong learning, as well as my pledge to be a knowledge partner to others,” he says.
The idea of a ‘lifelong’ commitment is crucial for Randall who sees no final destination in his life’s journey “to be known as a doctor educationalist who helps others”.
“I don’t see an end-point, just a process,” he says.
Randall, an occupational and emergency medicine practitioner, is currently studying for his master’s in family medicine. He chose the registrar’s course, which is taught at the University of Cape Town (UCT), because, he believes, it represents the future of the health service in South Africa.
“After the new National Health Insurance Bill is passed, a family-medicine doctor will be 200% employable,” he says.
Randall goes on to explain that the course also has the benefit of offering placements at Hanover Park Day Hospital and Mitchells Plain District Hospital, serving communities who are close to his home community in Manenberg on the Cape Flats.
“I want to keep in touch,” he says, explaining that, in order to fund and find the time for his master’s – “five hours a day studying after work” – he has had to scale back on some of his voluntary commitments to his local community, as well as the time that he can spend with friends and family.
However, Randall notes that, notwithstanding the rigours of his chosen course, he receives great encouragement for his efforts at professional advancement from members of his local community.
“When you say you are from Manenberg, people look at you in a prejudiced way. Their jaws drop. But Manenberg is the best springboard,” says Randall. “It is a quite supportive community. Everyone says: ‘Keep on going’. Even those who don’t have an education themselves.”
The engagement with the local community is clearly two-way. Randall himself has become an important local figure, in large part as a result of his role as a practitioner of occupational, emergency and, increasingly, family medicine. His nickname is ‘Doc’.
As a first point of contact for his patients, he acts as window onto a wider world of medical services, as well as other forms of support. In relation to work-related issues, this assistance may range from providing advice and support on sickness in the workplace – for example, by verifying work-related ailments and injuries or advising on employers’ responsibilities in such cases – to helping local people to find a job.
Randall is also increasingly drawn to emergency care – he is an instructor in advanced trauma life support (ATLS) and holds qualifications from the American Heart Association in basic life support (BLS); advanced cardiac life support (ACLS); and paediatric advanced life support (PALS).
He further emphasises the crucial role played by preventative care, which he believes is best achieved within the education system.
Noting that poorly educated populations can adopt unhealthy lifestyles, he says: “Secondary schools should educate people about life choices.”
Education should also offer a path to something better for the youth, he says. “We need to keep the kids in school and they need to be motivated. My approach is to encourage them to use their streetwise skills to find other opportunities and a way out.”
Randall believes the key to a better life for the youth in his community is resilience, which many of them already have – as he knows from his own experience. “I never realised how much I could hold myself,” he says.
The kids also need a picture of where they want to be and how to get there. “If you don’t plan adequately, you will come second.”
Randall is also sanguine about the healthcare challenges posed by gang violence on the Cape Flats. The real problem, he says, is one of access. “During periods of violence, people are afraid to leave the house, so they can’t go to the pharmacy or the hospital.”
However, taking a broader view, Randall firmly believes that healthcare provision in Manenberg, which was depleted by the closure of GF Jooste Hospital in 2013, will recover. “The government is planning to build a new hospital in the area.”
Randall, who has burnished his reputation as ‘the doctor from Manenberg’ through a series of placements in supervisory and managerial roles, envisages that he may play a key role in this institution. “When opportunity knocks, I am ready.”
- By Mark Paterson -