Stellenbosch University (SU) genetic counsellor and lecturer Malebo Malope has been named as one of the Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans for 2022. This prestigious list celebrates exemplary young individuals committed to creating an inclusive, equal and sustainable future for all.
The 30-year-old Malope, who is currently working in the Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics at SU’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences’, says she was in complete shock and disbelief when she found out that she had made the 2022 cohort.
“I could not attend the event in Johannesburg and was following the livestream, but there were technical difficulties and I could not continue watching. When I saw others posting their profile screenshots on social media, I checked the website and was really surprised to see that I had made the list. I even closed the webpage and loaded it again to make sure!”
According to Malope, this acknowledgment has been a great reminder of how far she had come. “We often forget to look back and see the work that we have put in because we are distracted about the future and doing more. This award has made me reflect on my journey thus far, and also serves as a reminder of what I would still like to accomplish going forward.”
Malope made history in 2019 when she became South Africa’s first black genetic counsellor. She had no idea, though, that this career path even existed when she commenced her university studies.
“At the end of matric I did not make it into the programmes that I was interested in, and even then, I was not too sure what I wanted to do. I ended up submitting a late application to the University of Limpopo for a BSc Medical Sciences and was accepted. I have enjoyed biology since high school and found the genetics part of it quite interesting. However, I did not know about genetic counselling then,” she recalls.
It was only during her final year (honours), when she majored in Human Genetics, that Malope learned about genetic counselling from her then supervisor, Associate Professor Kathrine Scholtz. “I just knew it was for me. It perfectly fit my love for genetics, working with patients, and counselling.”
She has since obtained an MSc (Med) Genetic Counselling from the University of Cape Town, and is currently busy with her PhD.
Malope explains that a genetic counsellor is a healthcare professional who has specialised training in both medical genetics and counselling. “We help clients understand and adapt to the medical, psychosocial, and familial implications of a disease. The medical aspects involve discussing the condition, the underlying genetic cause, available options and recurrence risks. Often, genetic conditions are inherited and can be passed onto future generations and therefore we discuss the familial implications and identifying at-risk family members who may benefit from genetic counselling.”
This also includes the psychosocial aspect as clients often experience shock, grief, stress and other emotions. “Genetic counselling fosters client autonomy,” Malope continues. “We facilitate their decision-making process by assisting them to make a decision that is well-informed and aligned with their personal beliefs and world views.”
Malope started working at Stellenbosch University in May 2020, just as the Covid-19 pandemic began. “I am responsible for coordinating the teaching activities within the Medical Genetics and Genetic Counselling unit of the Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics. I also have clinical duties in Tygerberg Hospital where I provide genetic counselling, mainly in the prenatal setting, and participate in the genetic counselling training of interns and students. I truly enjoy both the patient interaction and teaching aspects of my job.”
Malope also created an Instagram account (@genetic_counselling_with_m) to raise awareness of the field of genetic counselling, genetic conditions, basic concepts of genetics, patient experiences and relevant research within the field.
Asked what advice Malope has for young people, she says: “Discover your passion and your purpose and work hard at that. Sometimes your passion won’t align with your purpose, and that is okay. You can fulfil them both, separately. Importantly, believe in yourself – you are capable of much more than you believe or can ever dream of.”
Photo credit: Mail & Guardian