UCT’s top student leaders were hailed at the annual Student Leadership Awards ceremony on 31 October 2017. Meet the champions of the student experience.
Vice-Chancellor’s Student Leader Award: Amy Booth
Amy Booth, medical student and outgoing president of the UCT Surgical Society, won the night’s top prize: the Vice-Chancellor’s Student Leader Award. Under her leadership, SurgSoc – as it’s known to its 600-plus members – has strengthened an already outstanding record.
As head of its “underdeveloped” outreach portfolio in 2015, Booth founded the Health Aid for Refugees Project, which provides health education and screening to refugees in Cape Town. The project is still running.
As president, she was particularly keen to focus on transformation and racial and gender inequality in the surgical field, which she described as “traditionally a very exclusive career”.
To this end, SurgSoc arranged a series of talks for its members, with a proviso that the speakers were from a range of racial and gender backgrounds. Their first talk of the year, about the first heart transplant, attracted a bigger audience than any in the history of the society.
Another talk was about decolonising surgery, which, she says, “took great steps towards addressing some of the inequalities in the surgical department”, among not only students but the surgeons themselves, many of whom attended.
The list of SurgSoc’s activities under Booth’s leadership in 2017 is long. One notable project is the Kilimanjaro Kidney Climb campaign to raise funds for a renal dialysis machine, which costs around R180 000, for Groote Schuur Hospital. To date, SurgSoc has raised more than R250 000 and is still receiving donations from around the world.
Booth also oversaw SurgSoc hosting its first research symposium this year and initiated an outreach project called the Surgical Society Emergency Room Initiative in which students assist trauma units around Cape Town to reduce the patient burden on doctors.
She has also been the top student in the MBChB programme since her second year, and won the Asclepius Prize for the Best Medical Student Paper at a conference in late 2016. In demonstrating phenomenal leadership, through action and inspiring those around her, Booth is indeed a worthy winner of this year’s top award.
Team of the Year: Surgical Society
It’s hard to identify one flagship project for the UCT Surgical Society.
Their Kilimanjaro Kidney Climb to raise funds for a new renal dialysis machine for Groote Schuur Hospital has been massively successful. They hosted Organ Donation Awareness Week on upper campus and a series of monthly talks designed to both share knowledge and advance transformation in surgery, including a talk titled “Decolonising Surgery: From theory to practice”. The ongoing Friday Trauma Night sees students shadowing doctors at the Groote Schuur Hospital trauma unit. They hosted the first Surgical Society Research Symposium in October, and piloted major outreach programmes, including the Surgical Society Emergency Room Initiative.
SurgSoc has been tremendously active and successful in its endeavours.
Most Outstanding Undergraduate Student Faculty Council: Health Sciences Students’ Council
The 2016/17 Health Sciences Students’ Council has been a vocal presence on campus. A key goal was to ensure genuine student representation in all important faculty matters, particularly regarding transformation.
The council members spent their year in office reimagining how best to represent student views, advocate for students’ issues and restore transparency, democracy and accountability to a faculty council that had not had elections in some time. They also made important contributions to policy discussions, raised funds for students in need and organised many events that helped create a public sphere within the faculty.
Most Outstanding Team in Social Responsiveness: SHAWCO Health Steering Committee
SHAWCO Health provides mobile clinic services to bring medical help to some 4 000 patients in impoverished communities who ordinarily have little access to healthcare. They ran two clinics every evening in Simthandile, Du Noon, Brown’s Farm, Joe Slovo, Masiphumelele, Noordhoek and Bellville, as well as regular specialist clinics in more areas. All clinics were fully stocked with the relevant medicines.
SHAWCO Health also initiated two-week-long trips to rural areas to lend medical assistance. The clinics also featured screenings for mental health, a sorely under-resourced area of public health which has gained prominence in recent years.
Tahir Dawood’s list of leadership roles at UCT (and further afield) is extensive: head of outreach of the UCT Surgical Society in 2017; class representative for the MBChB class in 2013, 2014 and 2017; head of marketing for the Palestine Solidarity Forum Executive Committee in 2015; part of UCT’s Muslim Students’ Association in 2014 and 2015; and part of the Gatesville Mosque executive committee in 2015.
Dawood played a founding role in the Surgical Society’s Emergency Room Initiative in 2017 and was an organiser of the SurgSoc’s Organ Donation Week in the same year.
He has also helped organise a number of high-profile events on campus in recent years, including lectures by Dr Mads Gilbert (Norwegian physician, humanitarian and activist), Professor Ilan Pappe (Israeli historian and social activist), Muyiseni Ndlozi (national spokesperson of the Economic Freedom Fighters), Ronnie Kasrils (anti-apartheid activist and former government minister) and Zwelinzima Vavi (former secretary-general of Cosatu).
Peace Chiamaka Francis joined the Health Sciences Student Council (HSSC) at a time when the structure had lost the faith of the student body, as described by one of her nominees. Francis’s efforts since 2015 have resulted in the Faculty of Health Sciences becoming known for their rigorous and regular consultation with students on all important matters relating to their experience.
As chair of the HSSC, Francis serves on a number of committees, such as the Faculty Education Board and the Assessment Committee. Her leadership has been described as “dedicated, passionate, self-sacrificing, dependable, trustworthy and innovative”.
Francis’s leadership roles have been underpinned by an overarching drive to advocate for transformation and inclusivity in whichever space she finds herself.
Kerry Capstick Dale Student Leadership Award: Richard Burman
The Kerry Capstick Dale Student Leadership Award is given annually to a UCT student who, by virtue of the time they dedicate to the university community outside the confines of the lecture theatre, enriches the life of UCT. The awardee must display an “enlightened approach to life, generosity of spirit, humour and integrity” and must advance the ideals of the UCT mission statement.
This year’s winner, Richard Burman, fulfils those criteria. He is a medical student who is studying for an MBChB and a master’s of medical science in medical biochemistry. His master’s research focuses on mechanisms underlying prolonged seizure states, with a hope of correlating both clinical and experimental perspectives.
Burman has already won myriad awards and scholarships, including a Mandela-Rhodes Scholarship in 2015 and a School of Child and Adolescent Health Continuing Medical Education research award in 2014.