[Guest Post] From Nursing to Medicine

While the best-known route to medical school in South Africa is the “conventional”: finish high school and enter med school the next January, it is by far not the only route followed by medical students here.

The journeys are numerous, like Tash’s journey of an older medical student, which she graciously shared here.

nurse to med school

Today, Roxanne shares her journey from nursing to medical school. Roxanne is a fourth year medical student at the University of Stellenbosch. We lived across from each other when she was a first year and I in my fifth. She impressed me from the beginning, with her humility, passion and eagerness to learn. This is her story:

A heart for service

“I always knew that I wanted to be in the service field… I considered social work, teaching and nursing. I loved people and I wanted to make a difference in their lives. When I prayed about what to do with my future, I came across Psalm 147:3 which says ‘He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds’. After reading that I just knew I needed to study nursing.

I did a Bachelor of Nursing (a four-year degree) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. It was a very diverse degree, which included social science subjects, chemistry, physics, and isiZulu. The degree included community nursing, general nursing, midwifery and psychiatric nursing. I then did my community service year at a public hospital in Durban.”

A seed planted

“During that year I decided I would try to get into medicine. It was a thought that had been in the back of my mind since my first year as a nursing student. Various professors had suggested it to me, and the seed that was planted by their promptings continued to grow. I felt I needed more mental stimulation and that medicine could offer me that.

I decided I had nothing to lose and that if I didn’t try to get accepted into medicine, I might regret it for the rest of my life. My family and friends were very supportive, although my parents were not in a position to support me financially.”

Disappointment and the road to admission

“I first applied to the University of Cape Town. I had to write the NBT as part of the application process which was very challenging as it had been so many years since I was in school. UCT didn’t accept me.

I was tempted to give up, as it wasn’t easy getting my hopes up and then being disappointed. I decided I would apply once more to a few other medical schools before giving up.

The following year I took up a position at a private hospital in Durban. I then applied for medicine at the Universities of Witwatersrand, KwaZulu-Natal, and Stellenbosch.

Stellenbosch University contacted me and asked me to supply a motivation letter to supplement my application. In September of that year (2012), they called me for an interview. That same day of the interview, they called to say I had been accepted. I didn’t know whether to be happy or not. I was amazed at the news, yet still uncertain if it was the right decision. I would have to be a student again, for another 6 years!

After earning a salary for two years, it was a difficult decision to make. I didn’t know if I would be able to obtain a bursary for my studies as well as my accommodation. In the end I took a step of faith and paid the deposits to secure my place at Stellenbosch. By the end of the year I managed to secure a bursary.”

Some practical points

“I didn’t do Science in high school, which is usually a prerequisite for medicine. I think the fact that I had done a degree in nursing was the reason Stellenbosch made an exception for me.

I was not exempted from any classes in Medicine. Even though I had done chemistry during my nursing degree, it was on a more basic level compared to the module at Stellenbosch. The same can be said for anatomy.

It was a slight challenge adjusting to an environment where most students were a lot younger than me, but I soon made friends and was comforted by the fact that there were a handful of older students in the class.”

Nursing as a sturdy foundation

“Nursing gave me a wonderful foundation. Although medicine is so much more theory than my nursing degree, just being familiar with the terminology and basic disease processes certainly gives me an advantage. I’m also advantaged in the practical setting since I already mastered things like IV lines when I was nursing.

I respect the nurses I meet during my practical rotations since I know what a tough job they have. I am familiar with the way the ward works and know how to recognize the different ranks of nurses, so it is easy for me to know who to speak to if I have a question.”

The right decision

Roxanne during her OBGYN rotation. Image provided, permissions obtained.

“Now that I am in my fourth year, I can say I have never looked back. The mental stimulation and challenges I face on a daily basis are what I always wanted.

I enjoy the mystery, variety and beauty of this field, and I am excited about the future. I am interested in Family Medicine, Paediatrics, and Dermatology; but am not even sure if I will specialise.

I do know that I want to help the poor and those who have limited access to healthcare. I want to be the hands and feet of Jesus, in a broken world.”

 * * *

Thank you to Roxanne for sharing her story, which answers so many questions I have been asked. Do you have questions for her?


  1. colleen lowry says:

    Hi Rox. You are awesome. so proud of you. Well done my girl. xxx

  2. Berry says:

    Thanks Roxanne. What a journey. ..so glad to have read it. May all you put your hands to continue to be blessed.

  3. Tertius du Plessis says:

    Well done Rox!!! Your journey will inspire a lot of doubtful souls. Enjoy! Keep well.

  4. Gift Mawasha says:

    Well done Roxanne!!!!

  5. Madima Gift says:

    It takes courage,committment,hardwork and passion to do what you hav done congrats for the dat. I have a question nd av been askin it several times may be u are the right person 2 give me the answer. I just finnished my deploma in general clinical medicine(clinical officer) in Zambia and I woud like to aply @ your university in meds do stand a chance of bein picked. Your response will be highly be apreiciated.

    1. barefootmegz says:

      Hi Madima – there is no set protocol for non-resident students who apply to Stellenbosch, so unfortunately you will need to speak directly to the university in this regard. They are the only people who will really be able to tell you what the process will be, and what your chances are. But always have hope!

  6. Nancy Ackelson says:

    Good on you Roxanne! Hope you have a long and satisfying career!


  7. Monica says:

    Hey Roxanne.. am so insipred and motivated by your story, thanks as u had given me hope now cz im in a situation of doubting myself if i will get accepted in Medicine university and if i will be able to make the 6yrs of studying at my age of 33yrs. I am working for 10yrs now in a pharmacetical industry laboratory and I studied ND Analytical Chemistry which was awarded in 2004. Studying medicine was my dream when i was in high school but when i was searching about acceptance criteria end last yr i got into Barefoot site which inspired me to apply this year..
    thx Roxanne and Barefoot for such inspiration

  8. Brian says:

    Hey Rox… I am in Jamaica (in the Caribbean) also a nurse in the process of transitioning to medicine, I find your post real encouraging so continue to share your story as it may propel others towards achieving their goals.…

  9. Indiana Christiansen says:

    Hey Roxane, my name is Indi, I’m a nursing student, that part about your professors suggesting you study medicine struck a massive core with me. It is exact.y what each of my teachers except for one has said to me, that one teacher told me to stop thinking like a doctor, I just can help it. Since I entered voluntary healthcare work at age 15 it has been how my brain works. So that part really resonated with me. Reading your article was like a reading a snipit from my own life that hasn’t happened yet. It is not my intention to sound creepy, but I could live to get in contact with you so that I might learn a bit more about things from you. Your experience could help me figure things out. My email is savagegarden96@live.com.au

  10. Bunmi says:

    My Lovely humble friend, I always knew that God has special plans for you in the medical world. I am so proud of you. I love the lady that you have become. Continue to bask in the favor of the Lord. Shine on! By the way, my boys send their love. Keep in touch, Bunmi.

  11. Muita says:

    Thanks for sharing

  12. Alice says:

    hey Roxanne how did you secure a bursary

  13. Chanelle says:

    Hi my name is Chanelle and I have been trying to get into med school at Maties for the past 3 years,but I have been rejected each time. I rewrote a few subjects last year but I still haven’t pushed up my marks. I am also considering doing nursing, but I would like to know if I can maybe apply for medicine in my second or third year of medicine. Do you think they’ll consider me.

    1. barefootmegz says:

      Hi Chanelle, I’m sorry you’ve had a rough time in your application process. You could apply again while studying nursing, that may help your cause. But bear in mind that there are vast differences between medicine and nursing, and that you should really only study nursing if you can truly see yourself doing nursing as a profession. I wish you the best with these decisions.

  14. Chanelle says:

    Sorry I meant nursing.

  15. Thandi says:

    Hi what an amazing journey, I just wanted to find out during your Stellenbosch interview what kind o questions did they ask and how was it?

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