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Medical student receives coveted Stellenbosch honour

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A medical student who achieved distinctions in every theory exam over six years was awarded Stellenbosch University’s top student honour. 

Jennifer Kate van Heerden, the recipient of this year’s coveted Chancellor’s Medal, passed every year of study with distinction, and obtained distinctions in every one of the 11 domains of the final-year examinations. Van Heerden, who was awarded the degree MBChB cum laude, passed every one of the 29 theory modules in the six-year programme with distinction, completing the programme with an average percentage of 87.8%.

The coveted Chancellor’s Medal is awarded annually to a final year or postgraduate student who has not only excelled academically, but also contributed to campus life in various ways and worked hard at developing co-curricular attributes.

The awarding of this year’s medal was also a significant moment for Stellenbosch University (SU) as it is the first time that an earlier Chancellor’s medal recipient awarded the Chancellor’s medal to another top performer. Professor Wim de Villiers, rector and vice-chancellor, also graduated in the faculty of medicine and health sciences in 1983, and he was the recipient of the Chancellor’s medal in that year.

Van Heerden said she felt honoured to have received the medal and said none of her success would have been possible without a support system around her. “My success has been made possible by the support system I have had around me. I absolutely love what I study and my passion for medicine has helped me to go the extra mile, even during the tough times while studying towards my degree,” Van Heerden said.

In addition to the Chancellor’s Medal, Van Heerden has scooped several other awards during her academic career. These include: various awards for Excellent Achievement in Academics – 2014; 2016; 2017; 2019; certification of recognition for exceptional contribution to the MBChB academic programme – 2019; Huis Francie Van Zijl honorary colours for exceptional performance in academics – 2016; Golden Key International Honour Society – 2015; merit bursaries for the top 5% achievers per faculty (minimum requirement of 75% average in the preceding academic year) – 2014–2018.

She has also occupied student leadership positions and served on committees, including president of Friends of Médecins Sans Frontières, a society in support of the non-profit organisation Médecins San Frontières (MSF, also known as Doctors Without Borders). In addition to all of the above, Van Heerden also made time to participate in a wide range of developmental activities, such as completing an elective course at Antonio Lorena Hospital in Cusco, Peru where she worked in the paediatric ward in a resource-limited environment, and attending the Msinga Outreach Camp, a medical and community outreach in rural KwaZulu-Natal.

Van Heerden plans to intern at Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg after her graduation and her dream is to specialise in paediatrics one day.

Stellenbosch University material

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