Zim orthopaedic surgeon leads fight against clubfoot

Flora Fadzai Sibanda, florafadzaisibz@gmail.comOR Dr Tracern Mugodo (34), Zimbabwe’s first female orthopaedic surgeon as well as a leading figure in the country’s fight against clubfoot, studying medicine has always been a childhood dream. 

Hers is a story of courage, determination, and passion to follow her path. Despite the hardships for women to break into this field, Dr Mugodo didn’t lose the determination to live her dream.

As Zimbabwe joins the rest of the world in celebrating International Women’s Day, Dr Mugodo offered to share her inspirational journey as she’s blasted through stereotypes in a predominantly male field. 

Growing up, her family ran a small slaughterhouse, and from the age of eight, she used to tag along to help her father prepare cattle for the chopping block for their butcheries. It sparked a lifelong fascination with anatomy.

Dr Mugodo always knew she wanted to be an orthopaedic surgeon and has not stopped striving to break the mould in a male-dominated field. By the time she began doing practical exercises at medical school, she found that her experiences at the slaughterhouse had left her in good stead. 

“Generally, people regard orthopaedics as man’s work because it requires strength to hold the bones and use all the equipment,” she says, adding that even her friends at medical school questioned whether her decision to go into orthopaedics was realistic. 

“But I told them they’ll just have to wait and see. It’s what I want and I’m going to do it.”

Today, her schedule is a busy one that includes working as a surgeon in the country’s largest health institution — Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals — while also working for a small private practice. 

An orthopaedic is a medical provider who specialises in diagnosing, treating, and preventing diseases and injuries that affect the musculoskeletal system (bones, muscles, joints, and other connective tissues). An orthopaedic is also known as an orthopaedic doctor, orthopaedic physician, or orthopaedic surgeon.

Dr Mugodo, who hails from Manicaland Province, is a clinical manager for the Zimbabwean Sustainable Clubfoot programme.

She also does humanitarian work at different hospitals like St Luke’s in Lupane and Karanda Mission Hospital in Mt Darwin where she does surgical outreaches.

 “Deciding to be an orthopaedic was not a very easy decision as l had doubts along the way because of the pressure that was there. People would always tell me the field was not meant for a woman and it would break me,” said Dr Mugodo.

“However, because of the great support system that I had around me, particularly my male colleagues I was studying with made sure that I felt motivated and did not lose focus.”

After finishing her undergraduate degree at the University of Zimbabwe, Dr Mugodo did her fellowship in orthopaedic and trauma surgery with the College of Surgeons East, Central and Southern Africa (COSECSA). 

Thereafter, she proceeded to do an AO fellowship in spine surgery with the University of Cape Town in South Africa. She is a member of the Women in Orthopaedics South Africa: American College of Surgeons as an associate fellow and Women in Surgery Africa.

“I remember when l had my first surgery I was very excited because, like I said, I have always wanted to do this,” said Dr Mugodo.

“People have often expected surgeons especially those in my field to be men, so I sometimes get questions like are you really a doctor or just a nurse working here?” 

Dr Mugodo said when she first started her journey her staff and workmates were reluctant to take orders and instruction from her, as they all saw a young girl.

“I have many humanitarian awards because of the work that I do. Clubfoot correction is rather close to my heart because of the positive results that it brings which everyone else can see. That is why I enjoy working there and changing lives,” she said.

“I decided to join the fight against clubfoot after seeing how much of a great impact it brings to communities when their children have been healed.” 

Dr Mugodo said she did not just stop there. She has also taught several doctors about Ponseti clubfoot treatment. 

The Ponseti method consists of a specific technique of manipulation of the clubfoot deformity, followed by the application of a plaster cast with the foot in the corrected position.

A club foot is a birth defect in which the foot is twisted out of shape or position. While the causes are unknown, the defect can be corrected if detected early.

 “My motto has always been if you love something and think it’s doable just go for it. So, this would also be my advice to other women, especially young people who are still trying to figure out what career path they want,” said Dr Mugodo.

“If you think you can do it just do it. Get all the information needed about your career path and use it to your advantage.”–@flora_sibanda


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