#BreakTheBias: Zimbabwe’s Tafadzwa Mandiwanza Makes History As She Becomes First Female Pediatric Neurosurgeon In Ireland

by Duke Magazine

According to Top Doctors, pediatric neurosurgery entails “the evaluation, diagnosis, operational and non-operative therapy, critical care, and rehabilitation of children with nervous system problems.”
The neurological difficulties that pediatric neurosurgeons deal with are usually not the same as those that adult or general neurosurgeons deal with.

Tafadzwa Mandiwanza is well aware of this. When she was appointed as Ireland’s first female pediatric neurosurgeon, the Zimbabwean-born woman created history. According to the Irish Times, she works at Temple St Hospital, Ireland’s sole pediatric neurosurgery unit.

Mandiwanza dreamed of being a doctor since he was a child in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital. “My mother is a nurse, and my father remembers me telling him when I was three years old that I wanted to be a doctor,” Mandiwanza said in an interview with the Irish Times.

During her medical education at University College Cork, she thought she wanted to be a cardiothoracic surgeon. During her surgical training at Cork University Hospital, however, she had second thoughts about becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon after finishing a subdural hematoma — an operation that removes blood from the brain to relieve pressure.

She hasn’t looked back since she decided to pursue a career as a pediatric neurosurgeon. She did agree, however, that her job is difficult because Neurosurgery disorders in children are typically severe and complex. Children with nervous system issues typically require additional time and follow-up care throughout childhood and adolescence.

Mandiwanza enjoys being around to help with those issues. She enjoys working with youngsters and being in the operating room, according to the Irish Times.

“We encounter children with horrific injuries and traumas, but children are incredibly resilient and have a lot better potential to rehabilitate and bounce back than adults.”

“It’s difficult to be responsible for someone else’s child as a parent, but I believe that because I am a mom myself, I can empathize more.” I give parents time to digest what’s going on and discuss the procedure, including the risks and implications.”

“We’re more compassionate and a little less God-like,” she responded when asked how female surgeons differ from their male counterparts. You have to have a certain bit of ego as a surgeon, but female surgeons are more humble. Although I’ve read that imposter syndrome is no longer a thing, I have to convince myself that I am a neurosurgeon daily.”

Women surgeons are in the minority among physicians all around the world. They work in a historically white, male-dominated field, and some of them have been bullied, harassed, and discriminated against by their male colleagues. According to the RCSI’s Working Group on Gender Diversity’s 2017 Progress report, just 10% of surgeons in Ireland are female. The only two female neurosurgeons in Ireland are Mandiwanza and Catherine Moran, an adult neurosurgeon at Beaumont Hospital.

Despite a recent report revealing that many female neurosurgeons have faced workplace sexism, Mandiwanza claims she has not faced such discrimination as a female consultant. “I’ve never had someone say they don’t want her to operate on them,” says the registrar. “However, when I was a registrar working with a male senior house officer (a more junior post), I recall instances when patients would ask him questions and I’d have to respond, “I’m the one operating on you.”

Mandiwanza has lived in Ireland for the past 20 years with her Botswana-born spouse. They both became naturalized citizens in 2014, and all of their children were born in Ireland. She spent two years of her advanced surgical training at Cork University Hospital before getting to where she is present. It was difficult for her because her children were small at the time, she explained. She also underwent additional training at London’s Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital to bring new abilities back to her job in Dublin.

Overall, Mandiwanza admitted that she would not have become Ireland’s first female pediatric neurosurgeon without the help of a strong support system, including people who stood by her side and gave her advice and encouragement. As a result, she wants to mentor other neurosurgeons, especially women who are “going through those long training courses,” according to Mandiwanza.

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