Jeannette Parkes, 57, has been instrumental in improving radiation therapy and treatment of children in sub-Saharan Africa.
Now the head of the department of radiation medicine, she trained at Groote Schuur Hospital and in Ireland and returned to GHS in 2004 to run the bone and soft tissue tumour clinic, neuro-oncology and paediatric cancer clinics.
Most patients attending GSH face significant socioeconomic barriers. More than 3 000 new patients are registered every year. About half of these patients were diagnosed with breast and gynaecological cancers.
Children diagnosed with cancer are referred for radiotherapy to the department from Red Cross Children’s Hospital. Jeannette is active in streamlining the therapy process.
She helped launch the Access to Care collaboration between the University of Cape Town, Cape Peninsula University of Technology and Varian Medical Systems to teach radiotherapy professionals in Africa to move from basic 2D radiotherapy to 3D conformal radiotherapy.
This has grown to become the Global Access to Cancer Care Foundation. Jeannette has ensured that the GSH radiation oncology department is a fully functional academic unit with access to cutting-edge radiotherapy equipment and techniques.
She has developed an international footprint for the department as an executive member of the Society of Neuro-oncology in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as an executive committee member for low-middle income countries for the International Paediatric Radiation Oncology Society International.
What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
Choose collaborators carefully, always surrounding yourself with colleagues whose opinions you respect and who have the same values as you do. And to work hard to make the working environment fun.
Our theme this year is Accelerating Equality & Empowerment in Women. How do you empower yourself and women around you?
Women in Science used to be rare. Empowerment comes from the constant improvement of our service. Looking for opportunities to transform our workplace and create an uplifting and inspirational environment for our staff and patients. This motivates and inspires young women colleagues to want to walk in those shoes. It also empowers our women’s cancer survivors to become advocates in the community for the early detection and prevention of our very prevalent women’s cancers.
If you could change or achieve one thing for South Africa today, what would it be?
To improve the quality of state cancer services through the attraction and retention of motivated oncology professionals.