Competition is fierce to get into the School of Medicine at the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Faculty of Health Sciences, with a number of students getting several matric distinctions, and Annalette du Plessis topping the list with twelve.
Eleven of her distinctions are for NSC subjects and the twelfth is for advanced mathematics. “I am really excited to start my MBChB as I have always wanted to be a doctor and never saw myself doing anything else as I want to help change lives as best I can,” says Du Plessis who matriculated from Afrikaanse Hoër Meisieskool (Meisies Hoër) in Pretoria.
“Getting into medical school was not easy and I had to pace myself in Grade 11 and study really hard to achieve the right percentages. Our school repeatedly told us Grade 11 is the most important school year. UP selects for medical school from these results and I did my best and was elated when I was accepted.”
In her matric year she attended Choose UP Day and was impressed “with the new library and technology at the Medical School, including VR equipment where you practise performing surgery virtually to see what the success of the operation would be”, she explains. “I also spoke to several people in the medical profession and medical students and they all told me that UP has a very high quality of education. And my family and support network is here in Pretoria so I can stay at home, which cuts down on expenses.”
Du Plessis says she has thought about specialising in treating and diagnosing conditions that affect the brain one day. For instance, being a neurologist or surgeon if she enjoys the surgery part during her degree. “From a very young age I have been fascinated by the brain and my mom gave me an encyclopaedia about the human body. We have figured out the heart and other organs to a far greater extent but the brain is still such a mystery. We know how parts of it work, but how does it interconnect?
“Scientists used to say the right side of the brain is more creative while the left is structural and more mathematical, but this has since been debunked and the more we learn about the brain the more we realise that we cannot separate the hemispheres. What also fascinates me is the brain’s response to music, how it influences the entire region of the brain.”
Annalette du Plessis also plays the violin and piano, and she is learning the organ. (Image: Deone Photography)
Du Plessis plays the violin and piano, and she is learning the organ. “I started playing violin at the age of six and I mostly play classical music. I will be playing violin in the UP Symphony Orchestra (UPSO); I was invited following the auditions we did for UPSO last year.”
In addition to music, she was also the editor of her school’s newspaper, part of the swimming team, she took French and German classes and participated in the Maths, German and History olympiads. She won the History Olympiad in Grade 9 and in Grade 11 she participated in the International German Olympiad in Hamburg, Germany, which was her first visit overseas. Last year she went to France on a school tour with her French class.
To make time for all this, takes “good planning, lots of lists and discipline; the more you do the more you can do”, she smiles. “I have a bit of FOMO [fear of missing out] so I want to do as much as I can and to use every opportunity.”
To celebrate the end of her matric year, this past December she went to New York to visit her brother.
“I enjoyed seeing New York but I have to say South Africa has the best weather and the best people. The sunshine is just not the same there and the people are not as warm. In South Africa, there is this sense of community, we all greet each other, we’re not worried that the person is a stranger, and there is a general sense of kindness here.”
Du Plessis also has two older sisters with a rare type of cerebral disability from a recessive gene. “Our life is different to other people’s but we function well and we don’t see it as a problem,” she says. “I share my parents’ philosophy in life, which is to appreciate what you have and expand your knowledge as much as possible.”
Her university journey starts with Welcome Day at UP on the 10th February and her first day at medical school is the 12th February. “I am really looking forward to it,” says du Plessis, “and to having more freedom than at school and meeting a wide range of people.”