Pioneering transplant surgeon appointed as new dean of Medicine and Health Sciences at SU

Prof Elmi Muller.

The pioneering clinician who performed the first HIV-positive-to-positive kidney transplants in the world, Prof Elmi Muller, has been appointed as the new Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Stellenbosch University (SU).

Muller, Head of both the Division of General Surgery and the Transplant Unit in the Groote Schuur Hospital at the University of Cape Town (UCT), succeeds Prof Jimmy Volmink whose second term has come to an end.

The SU Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, which celebrates its 65th year of existence in 2021, has developed into a dynamic institution of global excellence and has been the launch pad for a number of ground-breaking medical and health sciences initiatives.

Muller is the first woman to be appointed as Dean of the Faculty.

Muller is a transplant surgeon who changed national and international policy through her work on HIV positive patients and organ trafficking. Her clinical work and subsequent research challenged assumptions about the suitability of HIV positive donors for transplantation, while her leadership role in the Declaration of Istanbul Steering Group has been influential in addressing the scourge of organ trafficking globally. She was the first woman to hold the Chair in Surgery at the University of Cape Town.

An A1-rated scientist with the National Research Foundation (NRF), Muller’s work has shown how patient-centred clinical practice can drive scholarship, and challenge complacencies about evidence-based medicine and ethics regimes.

Says Muller: “The challenge of leading one of South Africa’s top medicine and health sciences faculties excites me. I step into a post in a faculty that has been developed by the hard work and dedication of generations of extraordinary health care professionals, including the work of my immediate predecessor, Prof Volmink. This is a huge privilege and honour. And yet, at this moment, South Africa needs solutions to address enduring and ever-widening gaps in the equality of health care provision for its people. The pandemic that we are living through, emphasises the urgency of the work that lies ahead for those of us who work in health sciences. I look forward to working with my new colleagues to address these challenges.”

“It is an honour to welcome Prof Muller to the Stellenbosch University fold,” says SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Wim de Villiers. The University looks forward to benefiting from her vast experience, proven track record and leadership positions in the fields of medicine and the health sciences and beyond. Not only is Prof Muller a healthcare specialist, thought leader and educationist in her own right, but her academic prestige is globally recognised. Importantly, she enjoys recognition in an array of national and international networks in the field of health professions, while she also clearly demonstrates thorough knowledge, insight and vision regarding higher education, including the health professional sector and the health system in South Africa.”

Academic and professional background

Muller studied at the Universities of Pretoria (MBChB) and Cape Town (MMed and PhD) and also boasts a MBA from SU.

She is a recipient of UCT’s Alan Pifer Research Award, the Transplantation Society (TTS) Women in Transplantation Hero Award and was named the CEO Magazine’s Most Influential Women in Business and Government Africa. She holds a Fellowship of the American College of Surgeons, she is a Fellow of the College of Surgeons (South Africa) and a member of the Royal College of Surgeons (Edinburgh).

Muller holds external and visiting professorships and honorary appointments to the Universities of Arizona and Alabama at Birmingham and is an Honorary Member of the European Surgical Association. She also holds fellowships and guest scholarships in the USA and the UK as well as locally, notably with the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS).

Muller is a prolific researcher with more than 75 peer-reviewed articles to her account, while she also authored books and chapters in books in her fields of expertise. She served as president of the South African Transplantation Society and is the incoming president of The Transplantation Society (TTS).

She serves on the councils of bodies such as the South African College of Surgeons and is a member of experts groups such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Expert Group on Investigation and Prosecution of Trafficking in Persons for Organ Removal, the Expert network of the World Economic Forum and the World Health Organisation Transplantation Task Force.

  • It is expected that Muller will take up the position as Dean of SU’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences on 1 January 2022.