Doctor follows his heart to South Africa…

Doctor follows his heart to South Africa…

This Glaswegian doctor had no idea how an AHP placement would lead him to the love of his life.

“Follow your heart and if you embrace South Africa, be prepared to be embraced back.” This is the advice of UK doctor Graeme Spittal after living in the country for nearly a decade.

Eight years ago he left Glasgow in Scotland, to “spread his wings and give South Africa a try”. Leaving friends and family behind his plan was to stay for one year, but life had other plans for the Paediatric Specialist who is about to become a South African citizen. Graeme received permanent residency in 2009 and will hopefully in two years, just like his wife Farzana, call himself a South African citizen.


He and Farzana are both medical professionals and started their careers in South Africa’s public health sector at Estcourt Hospital in KwaZulu-Natal.

‘’I arrived in September (2006) and she was finishing her community service job in Estcourt. Although she might not say it, it was love at first sight. I was smitten the minute I saw her.”

Working in rural KwaZulu-Natal took some adjustment for Graeme who had never set foot in South Africa before being recruited by Africa Health Placements.

“In my first month working here, I had to be the Anaesthetist for caesarean sections in Estcourt, as well as having to remember all my adult medicine due to doing overtime in the whole hospital. This was a huge challenge for me as all I wanted to do was work with children. Dealing with new diseases that I hadn’t seen before, and some I had never even heard of, was difficult, but you soon get to know the local pathology and how to deal with it.”

After a few months Graeme eased into clinical work, and became part of a dynamic team at the hospital that reduced the inpatient mortality rate from 20% to approximately 5% in one year.

“I was taken under the wings by some wonderful colleagues and nursing staff and I soon found that just caring and being hardworking was actually more important than knowledge. Due to the high patient turnover and multiple disease pathologies, the knowledge soon came and the experience I gained in those early months set me up to be the Paediatrician that I am now.”

A year after arriving in South Africa Graeme and soon to be wife Farzana packed their bags, leaving for the Western Cape. In Cape Town Graeme worked for a year as a medical officer in a tertiary-level neonatal unit at Groote Schuur Hospital and then in General Paediatrics at New Somerset Hospital before being offered a Registrar position at Red Cross Children’s Hospital in September 2009.

“It was in 2009 that I received my permanent residency in South Africa and in 2010, my South African ID book. My wife and I tied the knot in 2010 just after having a great time with friends during the World Cup.”

Graeme completed his Paediatric exams in 2013, receiving the Robert McDonald medal for the best performance in the exams. He also registered as a student at the University of Cape Town, graduating this year with a distinction in his Masters of Medicine project.

What does the future hold for this all-round achiever and future South African citizen?   “I am hoping to get a full-time post soon. I am sure something will come up in Cape Town.  If not, I might find myself moving to a rural hospital again to continue what I started in Estcourt.”