Meet Prof Maswime, the trailblazing gynaecologist saving lives every single day

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If women are known for multitasking, then South African Professor Salome Maswime takes the cake.

The high-achieving Specialist Obstetrician and Gynaecologist is the perfect example of several women all rolled into one person, and working flawlessly to save lives of both pregnant women and their babies… and more!

When not operating, consulting or studying, Dr Maswime was also a lecturer at the University of Witwatersrand, where she headed up research committees and supervised the studies of medical students.

To get to everything, she says she compartmentalises her work. And when she does not have enough hours during the day, she wakes up earlier to finish what has to be done – always making time to play with her two young sons.

Mothers with stillborn babies

Her journey to this point has been a challenging climb, with lots to juggle. Being a clinician scientist means she generally split her time between treating patients at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Johannesburg and conducting much-needed research that can improve health outcomes for mothers and babies.

Treating high-risk pregnancies and making critical surgical decisions on a daily basis was part of her clinical work, and her heart goes out to mothers with stillborn babies.

“Some days you’re able to save some. There are good days where you operated at the right time, you made the right decision and something in you says, ‘Let’s keep going.’ So why devote so much energy to Academic Medicine as well? “I love my patients and working in the labour ward,” Dr Maswime says, “but it is one person at a time.”

The fact is – the science around stillbirths and why they happen is not advanced enough to give clear answers. That’s where the importance of scientific research comes in. With much of her work in gynaecology and deliveries published in peer-reviewed journals, it is Dr Maswime’s goal to make a real mark in maternal and foetal medicine.

In particular, she wants to investigate differences between the form and structure of the placenta of mothers living with HIV and of those who are not infected.

A scientist with passion for the arts

The humble but driven Dr Maswime has other passions too: arts and music. She writes plays, acts and even plays the trumpet!

She claims that expressing herself creatively is what builds her energy to excel in her many roles as wife, mother, doctor, teacher and scientist.

“I was exposed to higher education at a young age, as a daughter of a Theology Professor and Bishop. I dreamt of becoming an academic before I dreamt about a medical career.

“But I also wanted to study drama because of my passion for the arts. Towards the end of high school, it just made more sense to study medicine because I felt I could contribute more to humanity.

“After completing high school, I studied medicine. I quickly got frustrated and wanted to change to performance arts. I was strongly advised to finish my medical degree.

“So, I spent most of my years in medical school studying during the week and creating drama productions over weekends. Thereafter, whilst working I developed a passion for the labour ward and specialised to become an obstetrician and gynaecologist.

“I then pursued my Ph.D., looking at death from bleeding during and after cesarean section. This led to an interest in global health, which I pursued during my post-doctoral studies at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. I was thereafter appointed to be the founding Head of the Global Surgery Division at the University of Cape Town.”

The medical expert has a quote or reading that inspires her. She reveals:

I find this proverb inspirational: ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.’

No easy walk to the top

Professor Maswime’s journey hasn’t been smooth sailing. She has had her fair share of challenges and continues facing them even today.

“It hasn’t been an easy road – pursuing my studies for close to 15 years, whilst juggling work and family. I had my children whilst specialising and during my Ph.D.

“As a woman of colour, our glass ceiling is even harder to crack, as one is not always invited to or accepted at the decision-making table. You have to develop both a culture of excellence and resilience to achieve your goals,” she revealed.

Professor Maswime with her husband

“Being self-driven is important because you wake up in the morning and no one has to tell you to go to work. I surround myself with people who are inspiring; we motivate each other and encourage each other to do more.

“I am also aware of the inequities and injustices around us – and it does give me sleepless nights to see some of the consequences of weak health systems.”

It is this kind of single-minded perseverance that’s setting Dr Maswime up to improve clinical practice and advance public health in South Africa.

Further training

On her return from the United States for further studies, she’s had more to give back and even more to do.

“I see myself becoming a research leader in the field of women’s health and contributing as a scientist to advancing knowledge locally and internationally.” And she has done exactly that, if not more.

Prof Maswime is scaling up the implementation of the perinatal problem identification program model to four other healthcare systems in Africa, enabling a fundamental understanding of the direction the continent should be going in terms of making data-driven policy recommendations on reducing perinatal deaths.

An obstetrician and gynecologist, Prof Maswime served associate professor at the University of Cape Town.

She is also the President of the South African Clinician Scientists Society. She was a research fellow at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and previously a Wits Clinician Scientist Fellow funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

From Limpopo to the world

Prof Maswine was born in Limpopo province in South Africa. After qualifying as a medical doctor at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal in 2005, she completed a Fellowship and a Masters in Medicine degree in Obstetrics and Gynecology, and a PhD in Obstetrics and Gynecology.

She has worked in various hospitals in South Africa, and has spent the past decade working at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Soweto, Johannesburg.

Her research interests are in global surgery, related to caesarean sections and placental causes of stillbirths.

She is an advocate for women’s health rights, and equity in maternal healthcare. She lectures undergraduate and postgraduate students and supervises MSc and PhD students.

Long list of awards

Prof Maswime has published many of her work, and has presented them at various conferences and global meetings. She sits on many committees as an advisor and consultant, including the World Health Organization (WHO).

Salome has received awards for her tenacity and commitment to research in maternal health. She was acknowledged as a Trailblazer and Young Achiever by the President of South Africa in 2016.

She also received the young achiever award from the African Business Network, Africa Forbes and CNBC Africa group.

She says: “I have received a number of awards – the most notable was the Young Achiever and Trailblazer Award from the former president of South Africa.

“I was counted among South Africa’s 50 most powerful women by Mail & Guardian in 2020. The One Africa Organisation gave me the Research in Health Award in Africa in 2020.

Young family: Prof Maswime with her husband and their two kids.

“Other scientific awards included the ‘Mid-career scientist award’ from the South African Medical Research Council, the recognition as a Young Shaper of The Future in Health and Medicine by Encyclopaedia Britannica. I have recently been celebrated among Finalists for the Emerging Researcher Award by the National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF).”

A few years afterwards, in 2019, Prof Maswine was granted a Discovery Foundation MGH Fellowship Award to further her training and studies at the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Global Health in Boston, United States.

Salome is recently appointed Associate Professor and Head of Global Surgery at the University of Cape Town.

Outside of work

Away from the surgical blade and statistical tables, Professor Maswime says she’s mother to her beautiful two kids and friend to her loving and supporting husband.

“I am mother to my two bubbly babies and friend to my husband sister, aunt, and friend to many. I live a normal life with normal responsibilities, like taking kids to school and helping them with their homework.

“I am Christian, and my Christianity shapes my values and principles the most.”

She saya her favorite quote is “It always seems impossible until it is done” ~ Nelson Mandela.

To young girls still figuring out a career in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Prof Maswime says: “Find a problem that you want to solve, and put all your effort into it.

“We often go into STEM because of what we want to get out of STEM, but there is something exciting about finding a challenge that you are passionate about and using all your energy and resources to find solutions. STEM is noble when we do it for a worthwhile cause.”


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