Dr Larry Mtenje’s Journey

CITW Zambezi is immensely proud of one of our very own scholarship students, Dr Larry Mtenje, who recently graduated with honours from the University of Zimbabwe, as a medical doctor. Larry has been a part of the Children in the Wilderness scholarship programme for the past seven years, during which we have had the honour of being able to support him through his tertiary education. A huge thank you must go to the generous sponsors at Planting Hope Foundation who played a huge role in making this possible. With this, below is Larry’s personal story, in which he explains the many highs and lows that he experienced on his incredibly inspiring journey to becoming a doctor.

My name is Larry Mtenje, a young boy who was born at Chinotimba Clinic to a teacher and a self-employed mother. My journey to medical school began when I was just six years old and started primary school in 2004. I was a bright student, consistently ranking first in my class. Even at that young age, my teachers often referred to me as “Dr”. Although it was a stereotype to assume that every bright student would become a doctor, I didn’t mind it because it was then that my dream of becoming a doctor began.

As I progressed to secondary school, I continued to work hard toward my dream. However, tragedy struck two weeks before my O-level exams in 2014 when my father passed away suddenly. I was completely shattered. My father had taught me the value of hard work, and his sudden death only fuelled my desire to become a doctor. I wanted to understand what had caused his sudden death and the sudden deaths of others. Determined to honour my father’s legacy of hard work and dedication, I worked harder than ever before and passed my exams with flying colours. I emerged as the best student, just as my father had always told me, “No one will ever remember who came second.”

Today, I am a medical student, pursuing my dream of becoming a doctor and making a positive difference in the lives of others. My father’s memory continues to inspire me to work hard and make a positive impact in the world of medicine. I remember the excitement and relief I felt when I received straight As in my A-levels, and was accepted into medical school after going through the nerve-racking interview process. However, my joy was short-lived when my mother informed me that she couldn’t afford the steep tuition fees.

I tried applying for scholarships but was disappointed when my efforts yielded no results. It wasn’t until I applied to CITW that I was finally awarded a scholarship and could start my medical school journey. My first year in medical school was undoubtedly the most challenging of all. Adjusting to a new environment and learning about human cadavers was no easy feat, but I had to be strong and face it head on. I remember feeling like an average student, and I started doubting my decision to pursue medicine. Despite this setback, I reminded myself of the hard work and effort I had put into getting into medical school. I also had to compete with some of the brightest minds in Zimbabwe, which pushed me to work even harder. I knew that I had come a long way and was determined to achieve my goal of becoming a doctor.

My preclinical years in medical school were focused on my academics, but it was disappointing to realize that my hard work didn’t make me one of the best students in my class. This experience humbled me and made me realize that I had been doing things wrong all along. I started engaging in study groups and stopped being a lone ranger. Through this, I learned the importance of collaboration and support from peers. As a third-year medical student, I was excited to engage more with patients during my clinical rounds at Parirenyatwa Central Hospital and Sally Mugabe Central Hospital. However, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted our learning, and we had to resort to e-learning. While it was helpful, medicine is a hands-on field, and there was only so much I could learn virtually. After six months, we were finally able to return to school despite the risks. It was discouraging to realize that what was supposed to be a five-and-a-half-year degree had turned into six years. Nevertheless, I kept pushing forward and worked hard in my third year. I was thrilled to learn that I had done so well in my exams that I was awarded the UZ Book Prize in 3rd year, a rare achievement in the field of medicine. I took it as a sign to keep striving for excellence, and I continued to rank in the top 5% of my class.

During my fourth year, I did rotations in paraclinical, community medicine, pharmacology, and psychiatry. The psychiatry rotation was particularly eye-opening, and it taught me about the scourge of drugs in Zimbabwe. With few and expensive rehabilitation centres in the country, government centres are overwhelmed and unable to meet the growing demand. My final year was the most challenging, as I had to write board exams every quarter. I had to be fluent and have good public speaking skills, which wasn’t my forte. However, I worked hard, prepared thoroughly, and practised relentlessly, and it paid off. I passed all four board exams exceedingly well and graduated with honours, a distinction achieved by only 3% of our class.

As per the medical council requirement, I will spend two years as a Houseman at a Central Hospital in Zimbabwe, the first year as a Junior Resident Medical Officer and the second year as a Senior Resident Medical Officer. After that, I plan to specialize abroad and return to serve my country in the medical and academic fields. My dream is to become one of the first paediatric cardiac surgeons in Zimbabwe and Southern Africa, as this is a field that lacks expertise and resources in the region. I want to rectify this and prevent children from dying due to surgically treatable conditions.

To achieve my dream, I plan to write the Professional and Linguistics Assessments Board Tests (PLABS) or the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). These board exams will help me enrol in specialist training abroad, but it is a challenging process. I have already begun working on it by volunteering at Karanda Mission Hospital in Mt Darwin for the past two months. There, I gained valuable experience, learned from local and visiting doctors from abroad, and made connections that will help me with my application for specialist training.

The board exams are in three parts, with the first being a written exam usually taken in credible centres like those in South Africa. The second part is a practical clinical exam taken in the countries where one aspires to specialize, which is usually expensive and challenging due to limited funding. However, I will work hard to get a high score on the first exam, which will increase my chances of getting funding for the second part. In conclusion, my journey through Medical School has been both challenging and rewarding, and it is a journey that continues to this day. Alongside the vast medical education I received, I also gained valuable life lessons that will serve me well throughout my career and beyond.

I am deeply grateful to the many people who helped me along the way, including my esteemed lecturers at UZ, as well as you my sponsors, without your support this achievement would not have been possible. I must also acknowledge the unwavering support of my late father and my beloved mother (may God bless her soul), and above all, I am thankful to the Almighty for guiding me throughout this challenging journey.

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