UP professor receives top honours at the South African Health Excellence Awards

Posted on January 25, 2024

On a night of distinction and celebration at Emperors Palace, Johannesburg, Professor Mahlatse Kgokolo, the Head of the Department of Dermatology at the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Health Sciences, was awarded with the Scientific Excellence Award at the South African Health Excellence Awards. 

Reflecting on this honour, Prof Kgokolo expressed her gratitude, saying, "I am greatly humbled and grateful for the nomination, more so because I was nominated by my former students, the young specialists that I’ve trained, some from the SADC region.” The recognition for her captivating research left her genuinely humbled. “The recognition by my students, peers and the Clinix Healthcare group of the intriguing research, scientific work, that I continue to do is really a humbling experience.”

Professor Mahlatse Kgokolo, in a white lab coat, poses with her award

Professor Mahlatse Kgokolo, Head of Dermatology at UP’s Faculty of Health Sciences, beams with pride as she receives her Scientific Excellence Award.

Her journey into health sciences was ignited by the dedication of a local general practitioner Dr Kgoadi Molaba in her hometown, Lebowakgomo, in Limpopo province. Recalling those early days, she shared, “I had to wait for long hours to be seen by the GP who was patient, thorough and impressive.” Impressed by the specialists at medical school during her medical training and driven by the desire to make a positive difference in the lives of patients and students, Prof Kgokolo decided to specialise in dermatology immediately after qualifying as a doctor.

As the only South African dermatologist with the distinction of holding three fellowships, Prof Kgokolo highlighted her unwavering commitment, stating, "I’ve always put in the hours to achieve scientific excellence."

Her groundbreaking research on xeroderma pigmentosum (XP) has garnered international recognition. "I believe in research that can be tailored to the patient, so novel mutations were identified in a cohort of South African patients as part of my PhD research," she explained.

Addressing challenges in the health sector, Prof Kgokolo highlighted the setbacks in training resources and limited admissions to medical schools. She voiced concerns over the lack of posts for qualified young doctors and called upon the private sector for support. “To this effect, we call upon the private sector to help fund posts for the training of specialist trainee registrars and sharing of facilities.”

Undeterred by challenges, Prof Kgokolo emphasised opportunities for healthcare workers to make a difference in their communities. “As an HOD and senior clinician, I have opportunities to train and positively influence the young medical students and registrars,” she affirmed. Her impactful journey includes training numerous young doctors to completion as specialist dermatologists. Reflecting on some of her recent accomplishments, she recalled "The five double distinctions that our registrars achieved, the happiness of the young specialists and their families when they graduate cum laude both at the Colleges of Medicine SA and the University of Pretoria graduations.”

Looking to the future, Prof Kgokolo shared her interest in artificial intelligence (AI), stating, “AI is the new buzzword for the 21st century."

Her parting words reflected her dedication to advancing healthcare: "I’m grateful that I enjoy professional respect and recognition from my peers who elected me as the President of the College of Dermatologists of South Africa, currently serving a second term."

- Author Sindisiwe Kubeka

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