By Sinazo Mkoko
With a passion for global health, medical research, and ensuring we have a disease-free nation, Dr Caroline Pule is a biomedical scientist who is paving the way for many aspiring women in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) sector.
The young scientist is a force to be reckoned with and is currently affiliated with the Division of Global Surgery, in the Department of Surgery, Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Cape Town.
She has demonstrated her love for science by not only being an advocate for women in STEM but also doing incredible research, travelling the world, sharing her work and also inspiring young women to follow careers in this field.
“Besides being a scientist, I’m also a philanthropist and I’m the chairperson of the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD) – SA Chapter – where we empower women to become leaders, be the best scientists and their voices in this field to be heard,” she said.
Caroline’s research focuses on tuberculosis (TB) surgery and her continuous drug- resistant TB work. Coming from a TB biology background, with a PhD in molecular biology, she explores surgery as a treatment adjunct modality for drug- resistant TB, in settings with a very high TB prevalence. The young scientist’s TB research findings may lead to the improvement of drug-resistant TB treatment and her maternal infections research findings may help provide mechanistic insights into the impact of infectious diseases (COVID-19, HIV and/or TB) in pregnancy and the associated adverse maternal and perinatal outcomes.
She is also involved in the stillbirths data collection and report strengthening project in Africa, in collaboration with UNICEF; an essential study to aid in identifying and understanding the unmet knowledge gaps in improving stillbirth data systems.
Caroline was a finalist in the 2022 Standard Bank Top Women in STEM and the Top Women Young Achiever categories.
“My vision is driven by having a purpose, passion for what I do and always remembering that I’m my only competition and as a leader, not to boss people but to guide them, advise them and help them be the better version of themselves,” she said.
Touching on the challenges she’s encountered as a woman in her industry, she shares that, as a young black woman, she’s had to prove that she has what it takes to become a renowned independent scientist and a leader in her chosen career field.
“I have to work twice as hard to be considered for many opportunities but, again, I turn to use such challenges as a motivation to press forward, work harder and excel in my chosen career field,” she said.
She adds that, besides conducting her own research, she also manages the Global Surgery Research cluster.
“One of the challenges is being the best, exceptional leader as a young woman scientist in a highly male-dominated work environment of doctors, registrars, surgeons and professors. But I worked with a great supportive team and managed the latter challenge very well and got all the support I needed to excel in my work environment.”
The Standard Bank Top Women award entries are open
With a zeal for living to the fullest, an authentic personality and a passion for helping others, Caroline believes that “life is a gift and too short to be taken for granted.”
In 2021, Caroline received an honorary Excellence in Public Health: Medicine and Research award from the Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke Institute (CMMI), for her research focusing on understanding the biology of drug-resistant TB. She was not only honoured for the importance and value she puts on education and research but also for her outreach engagements with communities around her including being a volunteer with the Mould Empower Serve charity organisation.
In efforts to help empower, rebuild and educate the underprivileged youth by providing them with a second chance to improve their literacy, comprehension skills and science education, she started her own organisation -The Caroline Pule Science and Literacy Foundation (CPSLF). The organisation focuses on less fortunate youth, their need for education and placing them in the right environments to develop.
Caroline also helped as a volunteer scientist for the CrowdFight COVID-19 initiative, a global organisation that enabled volunteer scientists from different countries to work together in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Being a medical scientist working with medical doctors is such an amazing journey that continuously reminds me that, yes, indeed a life lived for others is a life worthwhile. As much as medical science research is driven by curiosity to solve health problems it also echoes Hippocrates’ words that “wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity” and we have the same passion, to save lives in any way possible,” – Dr Caroline Pule.
Her publications include an article published in the international peer-reviewed Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, a 2015 TB Summit report paper published by EuroSciCon Honnao Publishing, as well as the co-author of 4 peer-reviewed articles and 2 theses and a dissertation (MSc and PhD) with Stellenbosch University.