Shy and humble, Dr Lavinia Uuyuni tried a number of career paths but found that none of them ticked the right boxes in her heart until she went to study medicine in Russia, spending seven years away from her family. She spent more time away from her husband and son to study in South Africa. She now tells Inspirational Women in Business magazine about her journey from Iiputu village to where she is today – at the Namibia Institute of Pathology Limited.

Q: Tell us about yourself . . .

A: I am a wife, mother (to a son, Gwetu, and a daughter, Ayishe), aunt, and clinical pathologist. I was born and bred in Iiputu village, Etayi constituency, Omusati region.

I grew up with my parents and siblings, going to school and assisting with house chores, especially making marula juice (okukola omagongo) and sometime later, making my father Andumbu Gustav Uuyuni’s favourite drink – tea – after he retired from the City of Windhoek.

Growing up, I was a very shy, humble girl who always helped my entrepreneurial mother with her Oshiwambo bread enterprise, and she is my great inspiration, especially in raising me and my siblings.

I did my primary and junior secondary education at Oshikuyu Combined School and then matriculated from Negumbo Senior Secondary School, at Onaanda village, Omusati region. I was the best performer among girls in Ondangwa West (IGCSE examination in 2001),

Q: What is your occupation and why did you choose it?

A: I am a Clinical Pathologist with training in clinical Chemistry, haematopathology, clinical Microbiology & Virology.

I was inspired to join the pathology discipline by our pioneering Namibian anatomical pathologist, Dr. Albertina Iitana, with a vision to help improve the standard of care for Namibians. I chose clinical pathology because we have a shortage of clinical pathologists in the country.

Q: There are those who have known with certainty what they wanted to be when they grew up – and then there is the rest of ‘us.’ In which group do you belong and how many ‘wrong turns’ did you make before arriving here? What are the ‘lessons learned’ if any?

A: Growing up with my entrepreneurial mother, I thought I would be an accountant and thus enrolled for a financial accounting course at the Polytechnic of Namibia but left two weeks later for a B.Sc. (Unam). I did not complete the program as I was inspired to do medicine and got the opportunity to study at Saratov State Medical University in Russia, where I completed my medical degree in 2010. I did my medical internship at the Windhoek/Katutura hospital complex, worked in the Department of Anaesthesia in Windhoek, and then transferred to Swakopmund State Hospital in 2014.

In 2015, I then went to study pathology at Stellenbosch University and graduated in December 2022 with an Mmed (clinical pathology) after completion of the FCPath-Clinical Pathology program with the College of Medicine of South Africa.

The lessons learnt: Career guidance is very important, and I encourage secondary school pupils to attend career fairs to get guidance on choosing a suitable career.

Q: As a professional woman, do you have any role models you look up to –inside and outside your field?

A: Inside my field: Dr. Albertina Iitana, Dr. Libertina Amadhila, and my friend Dr. Laina Iiyambo (a radiation oncologist). Prof Annalize E Zemlin for the supportive guidance throughout my study time at Stellenbosch especially during the COVID19 lockdown as well as Dr Johan van Wyk for his mentorship in preparation for my exams.

Outside my field, I have my mother, Mrs. Lydia Shivolo.

Q: What are some of the challenges you meet on the job, which are brought about by being female, and how do you handle them?

A: Pathology is a very demanding career, and one needs to ensure clients get quality results from the samples they send to the laboratory.

Q: How do you balance being a mother and a wife and your profession?

A: I ensure that I finish all my work while at the laboratory so that when I get home I have sufficient time to play my motherly roles.

Q: What have you sacrificed personally and professionally at each stage of your career?

A: I spent seven years in Russia as a young person, away from my parents and siblings. And then I was away from my family – my husband, Joel Ndangi Iyambo, and son – when I was doing my Master of Medicine (Clinical Pathology) at Stellenbosch University, especially during the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, when I spent the entire year in Cape Town.

Professionally, I am glad that I ended up in the medical field, as this is who I wanted to be, and I am very passionate about working as a pathologist.

Q: What advice you’d give to women thinking of embarking on a career like yours?

A: Believe in yourself, and don’t give up on your dreams!

Q: What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

A: International Women’s Day should be respected and observed because women in the past were disadvantaged and limited in their career choices.

Q: Is there anything else you think we may have omitted but should be said?

A: I just want to encourage young doctors in Namibia to take up careers in pathology, as we currently have very few pathologists, and this, I believe, will strongly support the upliftment of medical care in our motherland.