GAMECHANGERS : The Changing Face of Medicine..CYRIL RUWENDE

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By
Rodney Rumbidzai Chawota
rodney@houseofmutapa.com

Dr Cyril Ruwende, MD PhD is a board-certified cardiologist specialising in interventional cardiology, and is the medical director of the Cardiac Catheterization Lab at St Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor in Michigan USA. As an interventional cardiologist Cyril and his team
use catheter-based techniques to diagnose and treat a variety of heart and blood vessel diseases.

He is an alumni of St George’s College in Harare, graduating in 1985, before going on to study medicine on the Gradwell Bequest Scholarship at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ). He maintains strong links with his alma mater visiting the school whenever he returns home and is proud to say that it remains an incredible institution.

He graduated from UZ with honours and was then awarded the Rhodes Scholarship to complete a Masters in Diagnostic Imaging as well as a Doctorate in Immunogenics at Oxford University in the UK. That was back in 1992. Though he has fond memories of his days as a postgraduate student at Oxford, he remembers being constantly reminded that he was an outsider by the Brits. At times he would be even asked when he was going back to his country, and that’s when he realised that if he were to stay there, he would certainly not get past the glass ceiling as far as his career was concerned.

In 1996 he moved to the US and completed a residency in internal medicine and a fellowship in cardiovascular diseases and interventional cardiology at John Hopkins University in Baltimore. His initial plan was to pursue a career in infectious diseases but he fell in love with cardiology; he was particularly drawn to interventional cardiology because it allowed him to treat patients with both drugs and procedures. He then joined the University of Michigan as an assistant professor in the cardiology division before starting his own private practice, and after having grown frustrated with the “hierarchy and politics of life in academia.”

Despite the US being a “divided country”, it’s been the best place he’s lived in, out of the three. “There is a culture of rugged individualism and often unchecked capitalism that at times hurts the collective and particularly the less well-off in society. The political system has become quite dysfunctional and from a policy perspective, appears unable to meet the
challenges of today’s world. All the same, it’s been quite welcoming with an intoxicating dynamism and energy. America offers motivated immigrants a lot of opportunities to achieve to their best potential and fulfill their dreams. As opposed to the UK, meritocracy is the order of the day in the US.”

What are his thoughts on the state we are in with the COVID-19 pandemic? COVID-19 has “turned the world upside down” and healthcare professionals have had to quickly adjust the way they deliver care to patients effectively whilst protecting them- selves as well. He also points out that because of the economic impact of COVID-19, a lot of people have lost their jobs in the healthcare system. Then, the inadequacies of the US healthcare system have been exposed at national level with an uncoordinated and fragmented approach to the crisis. He also points out how the entire issue has been politicised and that there ought to be clinical trials for robust therapies and the discovery and widespread global use of a
safe and effective vaccine.

“Systemic racism in the US is real particularly for
blacks who are the African descendants of slaves”

And then there is the second crisis that’s hit the country… again – that of racism. He recalls that 24 years ago, “before the George Floyd incident,” when he arrived in the US, he was given “the talk” by his African-American friends about how to behave as a black man in America and avoid getting shot by the police. He had always been a fan of African-Ameri-
can culture and was surprised by the extent of poverty, poor education and single parenthood of some black neighbourhoods. He admits to initially being judgemental about African-Americans, but after understanding the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow Laws, housing and banking policies, the inequalities of the criminal justice system and police brutality against people of colour he is now filled with admiration for their resilience.

“I am cautiously hopeful that the majority of Americans now accept that systemic racism and white privilege in America are real and that policies to address these issues need to be crafted and implemented. The November 2020 election will reveal whether this opti-
mism is justified or not because the choice between the status quo and change will be very clear”

Though Cyril has achieved great success in a highly specialised field of medicine in the US, his heart remains in Zimbabwe. It’s been “heartbreaking” to watch home disintegrate as it has over the last two decades. He recalls how in the early 2000s, his hard working parents watched as nearly five decades worth of their retirement funds were wiped out in just a few years. As far as the healthcare system is concerned he acknowledges that there has been a massive “brain drain” but knows that he must find a way to get more involved with healthcare and education back home. 

And what’s the secret to success from where he stands? “Career success will come when there is hard work, personal values, motivation, passion for one’s chosen field, high parental expectations, great mentorship and a bit of luck!”

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