In a rare and remarkable achievement, a Stellenbosch University medical student has graduated with not one, but two degrees which he managed to do simultaneously.


Nelius du Plessis has graduated with an MB,ChB as well as an MSc in Neuroimaging for Research from the University of Edinburgh, which he completed on a distance learning basis.


On top of this, Du Plessis – a “mature student”, who is married with a teenage son – completed many of his modules with distinction in the notoriously difficult MB,ChB programme.


“I don’t really see this as an achievement,” Du Plessis said. “I think I’m very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to become a doctor, and also to explore what has become an all-consuming passion.”


Du Plessis, who is currently doing an internship at the Karl Bremmer Hospital, said he will be spending as much free time as possible at the neurosurgery department at Tygerberg Hospital, and looks forward to spending more time with his wife and son “without the demands of studying for the next test!”


“I will be plotting the next step towards qualifying to become a neurosurgeon and expanding my skill set towards that,” he added.


Du Plessis, who grew up in Germiston and matriculated in 1996 from Hoërskool Elsburg, went on to study maths and applied maths at the then “RAU” (now University of Johannesburg). He completed an MSc in Financial Mathematics jointly with Edinburgh University and Heriot-Watt University in Scotland, before doing a Postgraduate Diploma in Actuarial Sciences. He worked in various positions in investment banking in the UK and SA. His last job was with JP Morgan in Johannesburg, where he headed their SA equity derivative trading business.


His decision to study for an MB,ChB and an MSc in Neuroimaging came about through his disillusionment with his banking career. “I realized it was a poor fit for me. Personal experiences including the birth of my son, as well as various family illnesses sensitised me to the role the healthcare professional can play in serving others. I realized this must be incredibly satisfying.” 


One of the family illnesses he encountered was that his father developed melanoma which eventually metastasized to his brain. “While this was obviously traumatic, I was also deeply impressed by how the skill of the neurosurgeon who resected the tumour gave him a final year of good quality of life. At this point I knew that if I was going to get into medicine, then it was going to be to become a neurosurgeon. This MSc seemed like a great opportunity to gain additional insight into clinical neurosciences. 

Du Plessis decided on Edinburgh University, which has one of the oldest medical schools in the world and is also renowned for its neuroimaging research.


So, what did his work and study programme look like? “While I love gaining and using knowledge, I detest having to sit and study. However, I’m equally single-minded and stubborn to work through it, and by the grace of God, there always seemed to be just enough time and energy to fit in everything.”


In between studying, Du Plessis enjoyed watching films, relaxed with his family, walked his dogs and did some distance ergo rowing – “a pursuit equalled only by studying in its ability to induce apparently endless pain”. He also took time out to cook and listen to music.


Du Plessis said he will, more than likely, work in South Africa in the long term. “I would love to do a fellowship overseas but, based on the positive experiences with training and colleagues here, I know I will happily work here. However, my wife is Scottish, so there is always that factor. I love the people of Scotland – they are truly socialist-minded, and the people regard the NHS as a national treasure to the benefit of everyone – we can learn so much from that mind set.”

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