Dr Marion Morkel, Chief Medical Officer, Sanlam
Marion has more than 15 years of insurance medicine experience Marion joined Sanlam as Chief Medical Officer in September 2016, after more than a decade at Old Mutual’s Medical Division.
As CMO, her responsibilities covers the application of medical science linked to all products operating under the Sanlam Life license. She has an MBChB and a postgraduate diploma from University of Cape Town, a business qualification from CPUT, and has pursued bioethics studies at the University of Stellenbosch. She is a qualified occupational health doctor and held the Chief Medical Officer position both at CPUT and UCT student services before moving on to insurance medicine.
I had the pleasure of chatting to her about her journey through childhood, exciting student days and her experience as a professional.
At what time in your life did you decide you are going to become a doctor? What was the response from family and friends?
I was very small when I decided that I wanted to be a doctor. Lots of children have passing fancies about their dream career but I cannot recall ever wanting to be anything else.
I even operated on dolls and hid that I damaged them. My thinking was that I needed to get experience. My family and friends encouraged me all the way. We had
no medical professionals in the family. My father was a minister of religion and my mother a teacher so there was lots of service to community in my family. We are only two girls, twins, and my mother fostered kids in our home. By the time I got to matric, I thought I may be better suited to be an actress but, with some guidance, I was encouraged to pursue medicine. I still had some doubts during the academic phase of my studies but when we got to the community service years, and started learning from doing the work, I knew I made the correct decision.
What were your main challenges before you entered university and then once there?
There were huge political stuff happening late in my school career and when I got to varsity. It presented some struggles with writing exams. There were lots of pressure on students to give up on their education as a political expression. It was a very stressful time. I had to look at my own basic values. My community service vision stood out as the reason to stick to my studies. These challenges created resilience in my life and I am now grateful for all the challenges.
Was there any particular time when you thought it was not possible and were there any specific person or persons particularly inspirational during this period?
Yes. Both my parents played significant inspirational roles but it was probably mostly my dad. He was a very inspirational man. He loved using quotes. “Never, never give up” was one of his favourite quotes or Thomas Edison: “The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time”. My dad gave me books to read from the age of three. He taught my twin sister and I that we could do anything we put our minds to. That’s why we persevered through challenges. My exam results were not always very good but I had the resilience to push through. To this day I still believe that failure is just a step to success.
I had great mentors, fantastic professors during my studies and during my internship at Victoria Hospital. They were such father figures. Karen Muller is also an absolute inspirational leader figure a wonderful resource as a mentor and a coach. My corporate experience started 15 years ago. It has been a real privilege to have had such great mentors along the way.
How do you see your role in growing female representation in the work environment?
It is one of my main missions in life. Women need to realise we are equal to men. My daughters are strong woman. They know their worth, irrespective of colour, gender or nationality. I do everything in my power to affirm people, especially women.
In today’s world there is an impatience to get to the next step. That means young people see things that do not work out as failures to quickly. We need to show them how life lessons work. That there is no instant success.
I love imparting pieces of wisdom to young people. We have phenomenal millennials but they so often think that the book knowledge is enough and they miss the value of experience, particularly when they have more than one set of challenges. COVID-19 revealed this challenge.
I really love the various empowerment initiatives, like “take a girl child to work”. Working from home has also brought wonderful experiences in this regard. It has shown woman how they can play all these different roles at the same time, balancing work, being a mother and wife all at the same time.