One of our Old Girls, Julia Kirkby, from the Class of 2007, recently went viral! Julia is a third-generation St John’s D.S.G. Old Girl, daughter, wife and Paediatric doctor. Her mother, Robyn (from the Class of 1974) worked at our School for a number of years in the Marketing Department and is now a passionate Board Member.
Julia is a medical officer in Paediatrics, currently working in the Paediatric Department at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, which is the biggest hospital in the southern hemisphere! She also recently married her now-husband, Pierre, and they live in Johannesburg, which has been “home” for the last 2 years. We were very excited when we saw a post about Julia go viral on social media recently. A mother of one of the children in Julia’s care had managed to reunite with Julia on Facebook, and posted the following:
“Finally found her on Facebook!!! Somebody please share to help me celebrate this beautiful soul… Dr Julia Kirkby! She was one of the doctors who worked on my daughter, Emihle, at Charlotte Maxeke Academic hospital last year. She went out of her way to support me and my family through that ordeal. I had another twin who also needed me at home, while I had to travel to Johannesburg every second day to see my other sick baby. It was not easy at all. I will never forget what Dr Julia Kirkby did for my daughter. And when she grows up, I’ll tell her about this guardian angel. Who knows, maybe that will inspire her to become a doctor just like beautiful Dr Julia.”
This post was so indicative of the Julia we knew at school, and we decided to catch up with her to find out more about what she has been up to, since matriculating from St John’s D.S.G. 11 years ago…
What made you decide to become a doctor, and why did you choose the specialisation that you did?
I initially didn’t want to study medicine! I wanted to do something in the creative industry. I remember choosing subjects at school and being rather stressed because I had to choose between art and accounting. I knew accounting was the ‘smart choice’, but art was my love and my creative outlet. Luckily, my parents were very supportive of my decision to do art and it was the best decision I made – I was able to satisfy both sides of my brain and left my university choices open by taking Biology and Physical Science too.
My dad is a doctor and he is so passionate about medicine. This was definitely an inspiration for me to choose medicine as a career path. I loved the idea that I could work with people and use my brain in a constantly changing environment. I knew I couldn’t have a desk job!
I took a gap year after school and worked in England as a boarder mistress. Then I decided to go to the University of Pretoria – it’s a great university and I had an awesome 6 years there. I chose to focus on Paediatrics because children are just wonderful to treat! They don’t have a hidden agenda and don’t play games with you. When they’re ill they don’t play, laugh or eat. When they get better they play with you, they smile and they start eating again. It’s a wonderful thing to witness. The resilience of children and what they can overcome amazes me every day!
What did you enjoy most about your time at St John’s D.S.G.?
I have such happy memories. What a special school! I think what I loved most was the people. The friends I made at St John’s D.S.G. are friends for life. St John’s taught me to be respectful, tolerant and kind – something I definitely don’t take for granted. I also loved the “vibe” there – because it was a small school, there wasn’t any of that major high school drama. Everyone got along.
What was the biggest obstacle you faced in achieving your dream, and how did you overcome it?
Medicine is becoming more and more competitive so you are always in an environment of competitive people. There is also an archaic history of bullying in medicine and a strong sense of hierarchy. That can be difficult to deal with in the workplace. You learn to develop a thick skin and have confidence in your own abilities.
What advice do you have for our current girls and their families?
Find your passion! I think it is so important for people to find what “makes them tick”, even if it takes a while. I wake up happy to go to work every day and I love what I do. How lucky am I? I think parents need to be patient and supportive of their children and let them find their own paths.