Dr Santa Marie Venter, an orthopaedic surgeon at Mediclinic Kloof, is also a legal eagle and multitalented sports ace.
Despite being a sports all-rounder, an Admitted Advocate of the High Court of South Africa and having an interest in fields as varied as martial arts, language and literature, Dr Santa Marie Venter believes a career in medicine was inevitable. “I grew up in hospitals,” she says, explaining that her grandmother was a trauma nurse who regularly allowed her inside the operating theatre from the time she was four. “Rules were different then!” she laughs. From early childhood, she practiced making sutures on oranges, just as her grandmother taught her, and wanted to operate on the animals her dog hunted down in the garden. When she was just five years old, she undertook her first “procedure”, stitching up a wound after her grandmother had accidentally cut herself.
Although medicine was a vocation, Mediclinic Kloof almost lost Dr Venter to the tennis court. She was a provincial player whose ranking among the country’s top 10 earned her a scholarship to a college in Miami – but hard as it may have been to choose between scalpels and her service game, the former seemed a wiser decision. “You really have to be the best of the best to make a career out of sport,” she says. “And what happens if you injure yourself?”
So, orthopaedics prevailed. “I was drawn to the field because I like being able to fix things, and I’m big on instant gratification. I’ve always been fascinated by how things work and I’m intrigued by the biometrics of joints – plus, as an active person, it fits in with my interests,” she explains.
She admits, though, that she occasionally regretted her choice – until she discovered mixed martial arts (MMA) while taking a pause from her studies towards qualifying as an orthopaedic surgeon. The hiatus came about because she felt she needed a break – although she always knew she would return to the field. After completing a law degree during this time, Dr Venter began practising sports medicine in 2012, working with elite teams like the Blue Bulls – and winning one MMA championship after another. Nor was this her first round of wins – having started karate as a four-year-old, she’d earned Springbok colours back in 1993, and gone on to win the World All Styles Championships. As if this list of achievements isn’t enough, she also won gold at the SA Championships in the javelin and shotput!
Dr Venter finally returned to orthopaedics in 2016. “I was working in an ER, and it made me sad to diagnose conditions and then have to hand over the patients. I wanted to be able to help them myself,” she says, describing her subsequent move to Cape Town as “just another adventure”. “It helped that I had the support of my mother, who’s my best friend, gym buddy, running buddy, and psychologist, as well as my biggest admirer – just as I am hers.”
Her next big challenge came when she was admitted to the Pretoria Bar as an advocate on her return to Pretoria in 2021. She explains that her legal studies were prompted both by an interest in medico-legal issues and a desire to be able to defend herself if the need arose. Her knowledge has proved useful when colleagues have asked her to represent them in cases of medical negligence. But having a legal background is also extremely helpful in ensuring compliance, as well as informing her communication with patients, Dr Venter says.
So, what’s ahead for the dynamic doctor? Given her penchant for chasing new goals, it makes sense that her sights are already set on crossing another achievement off her list: she’s aiming to run a 100-mile race before year-end, and to prepare, is training for the Karkloof 50-Miler trail run.
After that – who knows? Perhaps she’ll choose to focus a little more on her creative writing, a skill she honed while completing her degree in languages and literature – or maybe she’ll look to another academic interest. Whatever direction Dr Venter takes, she’s certain to keep moving. As she says, “I’ve always felt a keen need for diversity in my life. I don’t want to get caught up in just one thing.”
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