Dr Alisha Wade (Commonwealth Caribbean & Trinity 2000) is a Clinician Scientist in the MRC/Wits Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Research Unit in the School of Public Health at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa and an Honorary Senior Lecturer in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the same institution. Her research is focused on chronic diseases in developing countries. She holds a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degree from the University of the West Indies, a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Clinical Medicine from the University of Oxford, and diplomas in Internal Medicine and Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism from the American Board of Internal Medicine.

Rhodes Project: What first turned you on to the study of clinical medicine?

Alisha Wade: I always knew that I wanted to do medicine, though I couldn’t tell you when the decision was made or what the major motivation was. Having several doctors in the family probably didn’t hurt! When I was about six, I announced that I wanted to do pediatrics. I did change my mind about that part but I have always had a desire to give back and contribute to improving people’s lives. There is nothing like the satisfaction of knowing you’ve been able to help someone feel better.

Rhodes Project: What did you find most surprising about Oxford?

Alisha Wade: I had travelled quite a lot before going to Oxford so in many ways it was not particularly surprising. Some of the traditions are, for want of a better word, quaint. I was also quite intrigued by the way in which the university could seem somewhat removed from the real world. I certainly didn’t expect to meet my husband there!

Rhodes Project: What do you like most about your job?

Alisha Wade: I’ve recently made some career transitions and now spend half my time seeing patients and half my time doing research. I derive quite a lot of satisfaction from each of those. I enjoy the intellectual challenges that research presents. By the same token, I enjoy implementing best practice when taking care of my patients. The burden of chronic disease in South Africa is significant and it’s rewarding to be able to contribute to alleviating this, in whatever small way.

Rhodes Project: What’s the next big question in your field?

Alisha Wade: There are so many. My particular interest in chronic diseases is diabetes and even in relatively better resourced countries such as South Africa, there are still several basic but important questions to be answered about the extent and determinants of the problem. We’ve seen the toll chronic diseases have taken in developed countries-we need to understand how best to intervene to prevent a similar situation in countries already combatting a significant infectious disease burden.

Rhodes Project: What has been the most important thing about life you’ve learned as a scientist?

Alisha Wade: Medicine is quite humbling. You will make mistakes and the best teachers you have are your patients, so you should always listen to them.

Rhodes Project: What advice would you give to a young woman looking to go into scientific research?

Alisha Wade: I would just say to go for it. You have to realize at the outset that it will be a lot of hard work and there will be sacrifices and compromises. If it is what you are passionate about then you can achieve it.

Rhodes Project: Do you have any mentors?

Alisha Wade: I have and have had several: I can identify people at each stage of my career to whom I could turn for advice and guidance. I have been very lucky in that respect. I can’t overemphasize the importance of good mentors.

Rhodes Project: What are the greatest challenges that currently face women in science?

Alisha Wade: I think the challenges facing women in science are similar to the challenges facing them in many other fields- lack of role models, challenges balancing personal and professional lives. Biomedical research is very dependent on grant funding and not all funding bodies make allowances for career breaks to have a family.

Rhodes Project: What is the most beautiful place you have ever been to?

Alisha Wade: Barbados will always have a special place in my heart.

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