SHRUGGING OFF OBSTACLES AND SOCIAL CHALLENGES TO BECOME A HEALTH SCIENCES SPECIALIST
Laila Lynise Gilden is eternally indebted to her teacher at Umbilo Secondary School in Wentworth in KwaZulu-Natal. The teacher introduced her to a course she never heard of before and it never featured in a list of potential careers she was looking to pursue upon completing her matric. But what appealed to her about this “unknown” field of study is that it aligns with her childhood mission which is to help contribute to the well-being and provision of quality public healthcare.
After completing her Grade12, Gilden (22) enrolled with the Durban University of Technology in 2018. It was both interesting and challenging academic journey which culminated in her graduating cum laude in May 2022 as well as receiving the Dean’s Merit Award. Today she is among the proud Bachelor of Health Sciences graduates in medical laboratory science in the field of clinical pathology. Explaining what her profession entails, Gilden says, “It’s an unknown profession to many individuals but medical laboratory scientists see things beyond the naked eye and are able to know a patient’s condition without even seeing them. Medical laboratory scientists play an essential role as the backbone of a diagnostic team and I am proud to now be called one.”
Defeating the odds
Gilden says it has not been easy considering that the community she grew up in faced a range of social challenges such as poverty, violence, gangsterism and rampant drug use. To add to this, she was diagnosed with inflammatory bowel syndrome in 2020. “[But] despite all my challenges with regards to my studies I overcame them because of my faith in God, and with the support of my family, the university and last but not least, Ampath Laboratories, who had assisted me to a great extent in my final academic year,” says Gilden. She believes even though she grew up under trying circumstances, these helped shaped her grow into an individual with strong character, fortitude and courage to face up to real life challenges. She also acquired some life skills such as communications, taking initiatives, problem solving, and time management and these have come in handy in her work life.
Overwhelmed but blessed
Gilden attributes her academic achievement to her hard work and determination including the unfailing support from her parents. My parents did not have the same opportunities to pursue their studies like we [their children] have today, Gilden notes. So they did everything for us and ensured we fulfil our dreams particularly our studies, she says, adding she dedicates her distinctions to her parents and her high school teacher.
“When I found out about my accomplishment, I was overwhelmed but I feel blessed and grateful to God, because I would not be where I am today if it was not for him. I definitely think that graduating with cum laude and the Dean’s Merit Award adds more merit to my name as it shows my good work ethics and dedication. My grades are a very accurate indication of my success in university,” says Gilden.
Running own laboratory
Next in her academic wish list is a Master’s in medical laboratory science. Currently, she is permanently employed at Ampath Laboratories as a medical laboratory scientist in the DUT’s department of microbiology. Her ultimate ambition is to operate her own laboratory. Gilden’s tips to young people who wants to pursue studies in medical laboratory science, is that they should ensure they do thorough research about the field and also make sure they are passionate about it. She calls on the youth generally, specifically those in her hometown of Wentworth, not to allow their personal backgrounds and circumstances to stand on their way but focus on their academic goals.
Pictured: Laila Lynise Gilden