Mr Aidan Smith, the 2022 Chair of the St Andrew’s College Rhodes Scholarship Committee, and Mr Jannie de Villiers, Head of The Diocesan School for Girls (DSG) are delighted to announce that St Andrew’s College Rhodes Scholar-elect for 2023 is Dr Mary Gouws.
Mary achieved a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB) with First Class Honours in July 2021 at the University of Cape Town, having appeared on the Faculty of Health Sciences Dean’s List in every year of her degree. In her final year alone, she achieved eight different prestigious awards, including the Barnard Fuller Prize for the best student qualifying for MBChB with first class honours, the Dean’s Prize for the top final year MBChB student in 2020, and the MBChB Programme Medal for the overall top performance throughout the MBChB programme. She is currently completing her Community Service at Uitenhage Provincial Hospital in the Eastern Cape. Mary intends to read for two Masters degrees at Oxford University, the first an MSc in Translational Health Sciences and then an MSc in Global Health Science and Epidemiology.
Mary was the Dux Scholar at DSG in 2014, achieving eight subject distinctions and being placed in the IEB top 1% nationally in Mathematics, Afrikaans (FAL), Geography, Physical Sciences and Life Sciences. She played for the First Basketball Team and played the violin in the combined schools’ Orchestra and the String Ensemble. While in Cape Town, she was instrumental in the founding of the UCT Faculty of Health Sciences Orchestra.
Mary fulfilled a number of key student leadership roles during her time at UCT, culminating in her election as President of the University of Cape Town Internal Medicine Society in 2020, which resulted in her being awarded the University of Cape Town Plus Gold Award for an Elected Leadership Role. She is at heart a courageous and empathic young woman who believes in the power of doing good and takes action to make a difference in the lives of others. She was a weekly volunteer for the Students Health and Welfare Centres Organisation (SHAWCO) at the Simthandile Clinic in Khayelitsha from 2016 to 2020, serving on the organisation’s committee for two years. In that time, she organised clothing drives, created a dedicated Outreach portfolio for the Internal Medicine Society, recruited volunteers for Covid-19 call centres, and helped develop a method for following up on patients with thyroid disease remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic. Moreover, she describes herself as a ground-up person who believes that even the smallest acts can make a big difference in people’s lives.
Her experience as an intern in the public sector in Gqeberha and Kariega during the COVID pandemic has amplified all the inequalities and flaws in the South African health system and society in general, and has been transformative for her. She wrote: ‘As a newly qualified 24-year old doctor, I had to sit down with a mother and explain to her that her baby had passed away from diarrhoea. It was then that I realised that sometimes all we can offer is the truth and comfort, and to simply ‘be’ with another human being.’
Mary is tenacious and resilient and she has a clear purpose. One of her greatest passions lies in education and equipping people with knowledge to help themselves. She plans to return to South Africa after her time at Oxford to address the barriers to implementing evidence-based practice wherever she works, from small clinics to large hospitals, and to be a driving force in incorporating technology and efficient resource use in South Africa.
Unassuming, compassionate, thoughtful, intelligent, humorous, and engaging – we have no doubt that Mary will flourish at Oxford, relish the academic challenge, and be profoundly enriched by the social and cultural expedition on which she is embarking. We look forward to welcoming her back to South Africa and to her contributing, in her inimitable way, to the advancement of the health care sector in South Africa, about which she has proved herself to be deeply passionate.