She hopes to one day mentor other women!
A brain surgeon is making history as the first woman pediatric neurosurgeon in Ireland, The Irish Times reports.
Tafadzwa Mandiwanza grew up in Zimbabwe always dreaming of becoming a doctor. Her mother was a nurse and she said she remembers her parents telling her stories of her wanting to become a doctor as young as 3 years old.
“My parents fostered that ambition,” said Mandiwanza.
After moving to Ireland, she attended the University College Cork, initially focusing on wanting to be a heart and lungs surgeon. Mandiwanza feels those two years of her six years of surgical training were the hardest, mainly because her three children were young. She also often felt there was a bit of a good old boys’ network as an up-and-coming trainee. She reconciled the stress of being a mom and a surgeon by reminding herself that achieving her dreams would inspire her girls to achieve theirs.
“I was determined and organized, but a support network was essential. My sister-in-law moved to Ireland. We had au pairs and my husband, Rebabonye Pharithi, was working in Dublin at the time…I assuage the guilt of being a working mum by being a role model for my girls so that they can achieve whatever they want as long as they are decent human beings,” said Mandiwanza.
Eventually she switched her focus to become a brain surgeon. Now she has made history as the first woman pediatric neurosurgeon in Ireland, working at Temple St. Children’s University Hospital. While her particular expertise is one of the more life-threatening medical interventions, particularly with children, Mandiwanza says she enjoys her work and feels that as a parent, she’s even more equipped to serve children and their families.
“We see children with devastating injuries and horrible traumas, but children are very resilient and they have a much greater capacity to recover and bounce back than adults do. It’s hard as a parent to be responsible for someone else’s child yet I feel I can be more empathetic because I am a parent too. I give parents the time to process what is happening and talk through the operation and its risks and complications,” Mandiwanza explained.
As a surgeon, Mandiwanza has to compartmentalize so she doesn’t bring her work home. She’s one of two adult neurosurgeons in all of Ireland and one of only four pediatric neurosurgeons on the Island. In 2021 alone, more than 600 neurosurgical operations were performed, a result of a variety of issues from cerebrospinal fluid disorder to falls from trampolines. Children’s Hospital Ireland notes that no new child waits more than two weeks for an outpatient’s review and urgent cases are usually seen on the same day. Temple St. Hospital is also the only pediatric neurosurgery center in Ireland.
Mandiwanza credits her mentors for helping her get to where she is today and hopes to mentor other women looking to follow in her footsteps. While she believes that women surgeons are definitely less ego driven than male surgeons, she believes there’s a bit of confidence you must have that just comes with the territory. Like all humans, Mandiwanza admits that she too struggles with imposter syndrome sometimes but when it creeps in, she reminds herself of who she is.
“I don’t think I’d be in this position if I hadn’t had the mentors that I had – people who had my back and offered me advice and encouragement. I’d like to be available now to mentor other neurosurgeons – particularly women coming through those long training pathways. [As women surgeons] we’re definitely more empathetic and a bit less God-like [in comparison to male surgeons]. All surgeons have a certain amount of ego and you have to but female surgeons are more self-effacing. I’ve read that imposter syndrome is no longer a thing, but I have to remind myself on a daily basis that I am a neurosurgeon,” said Mandiwanza
And a history making one at that!
Photo Courtesy of Alan Betson/The Irish Times
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