When Dr Wilna Rautenbach receives her MMed (Ophthalmology) in December, she will graduate not only cum laude, but also as the top ophthalmology MMed student in the country for this year.
This is a remarkable achievement for Rautenbach, who is currently working in a private practice in ophthalmology in Cape Town.
The past two years have been particularly challenging for her, as she was diagnosed with a lung condition, and six weeks before the final exams – which were in February this year – her disease had worsened, making her pre-exam period a very trying time.
Rautenbach, who received a medal from the College of Medicine for the best FC Ophth(SA) student, said it was thanks to the support of family and friends and also “a very good doctor" that she was looked after through the build up to, and during, the exams.
Ophthalmology deals with the diagnosis and treatment of eye disorders and, to become an ophthalmologist, the specialist has to get a degree in medicine, followed by four to five years of ophthalmology residency training.
In an interview, Rautenbach said she was delighted with her achievement, adding that she felt “very happy and privileged" to be able to have studied at Stellenbosch University. “We have one of the best ophthalmology departments in the country. It was a great privilege to work under Professor David Meyer (Head of the Division of Ophthalmology and also Executive Head of the Department of Surgical Sciences) and the other consultants in the department. This is not something you achieve on your own and it comes from a lot of training and mentoring from many senior doctors over the past few years. I have to say I am glad the studies are now over," she said.
Rautenbach, who grew up on a farm between Senekal and Marquard in the Free State, studied medicine at the University of Free State in Bloemfontein, and then did her internship in Bethlehem and her community service at a hospital in QwaQwa in the Eastern Free State.
It was while working in the Eastern Free State that her passion for ophthalmology started. “I started working with two other eye doctors who got me into ophthalmology. They introduced me to patients with eye problems and cataracts and started teaching me surgery. From then onwards I was passionate about ophthalmology.
“I realised that there is a field in medicine that is clean and precise and from which you can get very good outcomes with surgery. It involves micro-surgery and I found it fascinating and particularly rewarding working with patients who, from being almost blind from cataracts, were able to see clearly the day after surgery."
Rautenbach ascribed her academic success to “a lot of prayers and grace".
“When you study as a doctor, you study not for the marks but to know enough to be able to treat your patients well, so this academic achievement is not something I aimed for. It is just an extra for which I am so grateful."
When she is not working, Rautenbach enjoys mountain biking, hiking, jogging and taking walks along the beach “in the beautiful surroundings in Cape Town." She also recently started a new hobby, kite-surfing. “Having grown up on a farm I love to be out in nature," she said.
Asked about her long-term goals, Rautenbach said she is taking it day by day. “This year taught me that nothing is really in our hands and it doesn't help to make long-term plans as things can change so suddenly. For now I just want give the best service I can to every patient I see."