From the humble beginnings in the busy streets of Atteridgeville to an astounding medical professional, has indeed propelled Dr Freddy Kgongwana to conquer all odds stacked against him and continues to do so. During the apartheid regime, he was amongst the people who were forced to relocate from Lady Selbourne (Pretoria) and they found Atteridgeville township as their new residential settlement.
The forced removal didn’t deter his spirit, as today he holds the reigns as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the second largest hospital in South Africa, Dr George Mukhari Academic Hospital (DGMAH). DGMAH has 1652 beds and only 639 medics, 86 of them being interns. “It becomes an extremely difficult challenge when the population grows rapidly. In 2011 the hospital was serving a population of 900 000 people, now as we speak we are serving a population of 1, 7 million,” says Dr Kgongwana. Together with his astounding team of 2027 nurses, 1808 support staff (both administrators and general workers) and 306 allied health staff, they treat an average of 40 000 patients on a monthly basis.
His road to becoming the CEO was by far not the easiest as he encountered a lot of stumbling blocks during his earlier working days, “Being the first graduate in my family was never easy, the pressure and the expectations were always things I had to deal with. There was an extreme need to sacrifice a lot in order to make sure everyone is well taken care of”, he says proudly.
Given the current state of health, he is one of the very few health professionals that have hope that the health sector still has a chance to deliver the best services, provided health judicial (medico-legal litigation) issues are administrated appropriately. He says that because there are no laws to protect health organisations, it is easy for one individual to derail the goals set out by simply suing an organisation millions of rands, which ultimately hinders the employment and production of prospective health professionals; including the procurement of goods and services for healthcare.
Kgongwana emphasised how excited he was when he learnt that the DGMAH and Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University (SMU) have the same goal of producing at least 10 000 health professionals annually and will work together in achieving that goal. He said “let’s co-create to secure a better future for our children, I cannot do it alone even if I wanted to”. He referred to the two institutions as the siamese twins (conjoined twins) and that it will be almost impossible to separate them.
He constantly remarks that he attributes his success to nurses, he says “nurses have always played a crucial role in my life, it is after all a midwife that delivers babies and become the first point of nurture to them”.
Kgongwana alluded that the main reason he looked at the opportunity of becoming a CEO is to plough back to the community where his whole professional career began. He has done numerous projects such as the DBSA Gauteng Health Feasibility study for DGMAH, the DGMAH SANOFI Oncology clinic from May 2011 to December 2011, Mandela Day Charity Drive (iKhaya Lethemba in Block NN, Soshanguve) in July 2012.
He has also served as the Deputy Director: Health Care Services in the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) from 2008 to 2010. He then progressed to DGMAH as a medical officer under the Internal Medicine Department in which he served for a full year and subsequently became the senior clinical executive from 2011 to 2013 then served as a deputy chief executive officer for 6 months from 2013 to 2015.
Kgongwana who completed his matric in 1982 at the WF Nkomo High School, enrolled with SMU, previously known as the Medical University of Southern Africa (MEDUNSA) where he obtained his Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBchB) in 1991. His sound educational background proves just how much he values education because even as a doctor, he still feel the urge to study further by attending more than a handful of courses relating to the current health hazards, one of them being the MDR-TB (Multi-Drug-Resistant tuberculosis, an infection caused by bacteria that are resistant to treatment) training programme.
Reminiscing about his early years after joining the profession, he started off with an obligatory internship programme on the 1st of December 1991 focusing on the paediatrics at the DGMAH for a year, he then joined family medicine as a registrar for one year. He subsequently worked as a General Practitioner in Soshanguve (North of Pretoria) from 1994 to 2003.
His journey continued in the North West province working as a general practitioner at the Christiana Hospital and the Bloemhof Hospital simultaneously from 2003 to 2005. During that time he was the only doctor around that area, “Another person would have seen travelling 50km daily between these Hospitals as a strenuous activity but I saw it as a blessing because I became the clinical manager by default (as there was no other doctor) and that is how I was introduced to a managerial environment” he says gratefully. From 2005 to 2008 he continued as a senior clinical manager at the Witbank Hospital in Mpumalanga province.
He concludes by appealing to prospective health professionals to surround themselves with positive people, express empathy towards patients and always remember their ethics in order to uplift the health sector.