Written by: Phindile Le Bris Sithole-Spong
An interview with DR Kirti Patel-Boosi
Its hard to ignore gender-based violence. Where ever you look these days, there is something on the news; on social media or in your vicinity that reminds you how vulnerable women are. With a global pandemic that is affecting us all and forcing us to stay home, more and more women are becoming vulnerable to abuse of some kind. I had a chat with former school mate DR Kirti Patel-Boosi to discuss this global pandemic that is thriving on the coattails of COVID-19 and putting women at risk and how we can all do our part.
Phindile Sithole-Spong: Hi Kirti, thanks so much for agreeing to do this interview. I have been so inspired by how vocal you have been about gender-based violence that I thought it imperative we have a chat. But before we jump in tell us a little bit about yourself like where you are from, where you work and how you chose your current career path?
DR Kirti Patel-Boosi: Hey Phindi! What an honor and a pleasure it is to do this interview with you. I am so excited for your new adventure and to watch She Evolves grow.
So I am currently based in Johannesburg and am doing my Community Service year, working in the Emergency Department (ED) at a state district hospital on the East Rand. Community Service is a mandatory year before you are allowed to practice as an independent practitioner in South Africa.
From a young age I had exposure to medicine and that exposure turned into a passion. My father is a pediatrician and I remember distinctly having to wait outside the NICU on a Saturday while he would check on a patient or hide under the desk in his practice waiting until a patient left to steal a lollipop. I was always inspired by how people spoke so highly of him as a doctor and how many lives he truly did change. Subconsciously that sparked something in me. That was then solidified in high school when I begun to learn more about biology and found it interesting. I knew then that I had found a career worth pursuing.
PSS: A few weeks ago on your instagram, you posted about an incident where a women came into the hospital you work in after she had obviously had a violent altercation with her partner and that seemed to really stir up something in you why is that?
KPB: In medicine, especially in the, ED you are confronted with the many joys of helping people but also the many harsh realities of society. I have attended to so many patients who are
either the perpetrator or the victim of horrendously violent crimes. I think I have become more vocal on social media because
1) it appears that there is a misunderstanding regarding poverty and we forget that on the end of that people are truly suffering and
2) I am so tired of seeing women coming into the ED bruised and battered and it feels like no one is doing anything about the survivors of gender-based violence (GBV). We only speak once someone is actually demised due to it. When you read the statistics and are surrounded by other female doctors/nurses you cannot help but wonder which one of us is next? It just felt like I had had enough and I had to speak out on Instagram. If we become desensitized to these issues then we walk into dangerous territory of complacency.
PSS: I agree with that assessment and I can only imagine how much you see on a daily basis. On the topic of speaking out you also said something else recently which was that you felt you had to take a stance and “politicize medicine” what does that mean?
KPB: There is an idea of professionalism that is both drilled into you and created out of necessity in the medical world. We interact with many different people on a daily basis with differing world views and it's important to remain neutral to the opinions of your patients, simply so you can do your job without bias or counter transference towards patients. I might have a differing world view to my patients on many aspects of politics. Also, doctors generally do not talk about politics or even their job openly and that can make people feel quite isolated in such a big community. So I spoke about this idea of not denying that medicine is politicized.
Even before the height of the Covid-19 pandemic we were confronted with the reality of GBV and extremely violent pathology. This is a consequence of many historical events as well as many current political decisions.
If doctors begin to report these statistics for what they truly are then hopefully that can spark change higher up. We have a unique privilege of having a window into different communities and servicing communities comes with the responsibility to improve things in that community.
PSS: I feel like when it comes to gender based violence there is an air of secrecy to it. In all social and racial groups why do you think that is? Is it because the topic is too hard to understand or are we doing it to protect the victims in these situations?
KPB: I think that across different ethic and racial groups (especially in South Africa which is still quite conservative) the patriarchy still dominates and so there is this idea that men are right and that their actions can be excused. GBV is not so much a difficult topic to understand so much as it is a complicated topic to address because essentially we have to ask men what it means to be
a man in 2020. I also think that people who have experienced GBV are ‘victimised' and being the victim as opposed to the survivor, means you are treated as weak or shamed. When we change the narrative from women being victims of GBV to men being perpetrators of GBV then we alleviate the secrecy that exists. That's why we constantly need to keep the discussion alive, so we (women) never feel alone to stand up against perpetrators.
PSS: As someone who has had someone very close to me emotionally and physically assaulted by her husband, I understand first hand why it might be hard to get into it. Especially as said person keeps going back and no matter how much I, or anyone else tries, they don't leave the situation, and when they find themselves in the “honeymoon phase” of their relationship I end up being the bad guy when all I was trying to do was help. But on the other hand I would feel terrible if I had sat back and said or done nothing. As a Doctor what do you feel you can do at the end of the day for patients who are in these situations? And are there measures in place to help doctors be proactive?
KPB: For one, I try to never judge my patients or their decisions, especially in an acute setting where they are especially vulnerable. People present in different ways to the ED due to the consequences of GBV; assault, broken bones, non-fatal suicide attempts and as obstetric patients with traumatic complications. I always try and spend extra time with these patients debriefing on their current circumstances and also reminding them of their own strengths and importance. Logistically all patients presenting after an incident are referred to the crisis centre to receive counseling, open a case where they would like to and have evidence be taken. The measures we have at the hospital generally cover very logistic aspects of GBV as opposed to the rehabilitation aspect of GBV.
PSS: What are some rehabilitation measures you think hospitals and DRs could implement to make the approach more holistic?
KPB: Before we even begin to talk about rehabilitation we should talk about preventative measures. Breaking barriers around talking about consent, sex, menstruation and contraceptives from a young age for both girls and boys could drastically change our approach to holistic care. But to answer your question; doctors and nurses are often the last port of call for many patients who might not seek help otherwise. Often these patients can go missed if they present with a pathology that has stigma attached to it (eg. STDs) or where they present repeatedly (eg. unwanted pregnancies).
Firstly, if doctors and nurses are trained better in identifying the presentation of GBV then these patients immediately fall into a different channel of being treated. What I mean by that is that patients can be directed to more private rooms or one immediately knows that this patient might require more time and more patience to open up. This alone could lead to more cases being identified. I also wonder if creating community center's around hospitals could allow easier access for patients to seek help so that rehabilitation envelops a more multidisciplinary approach.
PSS: I can imagine that you see a lot throughout your day as a DR. Some good, some bad and some plain ugly. How do you take time out to decompress after a long day?
KPB: I try and start my day with meditation and set intentions for the day including my approach to my work. I love to sweat it out or move my body. There are other days however where decompressing includes a glass of wine, a cry and a donut and that can be wildly satisfying. I also find putting on a kickass playlist every night and having a little boogy also works as a great release. I have found the more open I have been about my feelings in medicine, the less alone I have also felt. Sometimes, however decompressing is a bit more complicated than all of those actions and thats when I ask for help because burnout and mental fatigue are common in the medical world.
PSS: Apart from being a kick ass doctor, what else do you enjoy doing? Do you have any hobbies or things you are interested in?
KPB: That's so sweet, I really do aspire to be kickass! I have had the opportunity to explore many interests this year. I absolutely love cooking with my husband and I have taken up painting and am loving that. I also love watching films, listening to podcasts and generally educating myself with interesting youtube videos. I also love a good skin care video every now and then haha.
PSS: Final question, what does self evolution mean to you? And how do you make sure you are constantly growing and evolving?
KPB: I think self evolution means doing the work. It means looking deep into yourself, sitting with yourself, having those important conversations and then deciding what your potential is and going beyond that. Sometimes those conversations are alone or with loved ones or even with professional help.
I think that we will always have moments where everything goes our way and then other times nothing seems to go our way. Part of growing and evolving is the ability to recognize what kind of moment you are in and to respectively enjoy or work harder. Self evolution means loving yourself absolutely and unapologetically. When you do that then you always make time for yourself.