Karabo Maleka, who graduated cum laude in speech pathology in 2016, is set to become the first black student to graduate with a PhD in the subject from the University of Pretoria in April.
She says her late grandmother who was a nurse inspired her to pursue a career in the health sector. “I also went for a psychometric assessment, which recommended that speech-language pathology would be a suitable career for my personality,” says Maleka, who hails from Lebowakgomo in Limpopo.
“Speech-language pathologists assess and treat various speech, language, communication and voice difficulties in both children and adults,” she explains. “We help our patients to reach their maximum capability when it comes to communication. Speech-language pathologists often work in a multidisciplinary team setting.”
Maleka works at the Health Professions Council of South Africa as a professional practice officer, and is responsible for matters pertaining to the scope of practice and professional development for health practitioners registered with the council.
She is driven by increasing the accessibility of healthcare services for all and has a special interest in developmental screening, medico-legal, ethics, practitioner regulation and audiology.
Maleka says she decided to study at UP because the institution is a research-intensive university and because the Department of Communication Pathology promotes research being published in peer-reviewed journals. “I was attracted by the notion that my research will be read and be impactful across the globe.” The mother of three adds that getting her qualifications at UP has created opportunities for her to collaborate with experienced authors.
Completing her PhD was a marathon, she says. “Along the journey, many things beyond a researcher’s control go wrong, mainly unforeseen delays. I overcame challenges because of the support of my supervisors, Professor Jeannie van der Linde and Professor De Wet Swanepoel. I had also created a circle of like-minded people who were pursuing PhDs and I was motivated by them along the way.”
She advises anyone who would like to venture into the same space as hers to do their research thoroughly and to spend a day shadowing a speech-language pathologist to get a clear picture of what the job entails. “Speech-language pathology is broad and requires one to be compassionate and to have a drive for improving the quality of life of your patients.”
And her thoughts on the role of alumni? “As alumni, we have a role to guide, mentor and pave the way for current and prospective students – and I intend to assist in every way possible.”
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