INSEAD Participant Interview

Changing your Mindset and Gaining the Confidence to Approach your Work Differently


Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl

Clinical Manager,
Zuzimpilo Pulse Clinic
Johannesburg Area, South Africa

Strategic Innovation for Community Health alumna, Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl, on how the programme changed her mindset and gave her the confidence to approach her work differently

Can you please introduce yourself?

I was born in Zimbabwe and moved to South Africa in 1996 to pursue my medical studies. It was my dream to become a doctor. I first did a BSc and then went onto study medicine, from which I graduated in 2005.

Could you please explain your current role and responsibilities?

In 2009 I started working at an HIV NGO and have been focused in that field ever since. I left in 2014 and in March 2015 I went into private practice. Prior to being a private practice, the clinic in which I work was donor funded (from 2006 to 2015). At its busiest it had about 10,000 patients coming through the doors. When the funding stopped, we took over the clinic and turned it into a private practice. Many of the patients left for treatment in the public sector as it is free. We had to think about other services we could offer to ensure we had steady revenues. It was at this moment that we decided to expand into general practitioner services and I spent most of 2016 shifting to this focus, something that has not been easy. 

You took part in the Innovators for community wealth (now Strategic Innovation for Community Health) programme at around the same time. Did that help with the shift?

I think that I was stuck in a rut, trying to find ways of dealing with other things other than HIV. I had to find a way out of my comfort zone and I think that the Strategic Innovation for Community Health programme really opened my eyes.

If you love something, it becomes difficult to see anything else. It’s a mental block. I only wanted to see HIV patients, but that model was not going to be sustainable. There was no funding. We were now a proper private practice and we didn’t have many patients as they couldn’t afford it.  People had pay for medication and for our services.

So we had to survive and I had to sort the practice out very quickly. When we started, we weren’t getting where we wanted and needed to be. It was at this point that my colleague recommended the Strategic Innovation for Community Health programme.

The programme helped me a lot. It was great to have faculty who weren’t medical doctors. They brought other perspectives. I think I found this most riveting about the course. We were being taught amazing stuff by people who had not worked in the medical industry, yet the principles they spoke about were still applicable. For this reason, I wish I’d done the course before. There was so much logic to it.

It’s also a very practical programme. Faculty use lots of case studies that help you understand how others have, and how you can, approach things on the ground. These really helped make the arguments relatable.

What kind of perspectives did you get during the programme?

The Strategic Innovation for Community Health programme really changed my mindset. Before the programme, I thought that money and medicine didn’t mix. However, there was an aha moment when I realised that without money, there won’t be a practice. Business and healthcare can be complementary and work hand in hand. There is nothing wrong with seeing a medical practice as a business and in fact, it’s often a positive thing to do so.

The programme also taught me that there is nothing wrong with failing.

It also helped me to start thinking about the customer journey in my medical practice. What do the patients see when they come to us? How are they welcomed? For example, how much of a difference would it make to be greeted by a smiling and positive receptionist? Would it result in repeat customers? Probably.

So, think of the patients as customers and provide them with a customer journey. Treat the practice more like a business.

The Strategic Innovation for Community Health programme helped give me a lot of confidence. Change and getting out of your comfort zone can be difficult to deal with, but the professors taught me change is not difficult. They emphasised that you don’t need to do it all over night. Rather, take small steps and change bit by bit. Think where you want to go.

Was the networking important?

It was great. I was so relieved to hear other stories. It made me realise that problems in health care are universal, no matter where you are in the world. It’s easy to think that you face issues that are unique to your region, but really you are not alone!

I was also relieved the find out that South Africa is much farther ahead in terms of HIV care than I thought before coming into the programme. Not only that, but that I am also much farther ahead than I thought in the way I approach HIV care.

How important to be a health care innovator?

It’s very important. If you stay stuck in your ways, you can’t help people. Innovation comes from collaboration. No one person has all the answers. I have a lot of knowledge about HIV, but there are others things I’m not as knowledgeable about. And that ok. That’s where teamwork helps.

After attending the programme I was no longer afraid to get ideas from other people. And it didn’t matter if people didn’t agree with me when I expressed my opinion. The programme made me less afraid to share and sometimes disagree.  At the end of the day, we don’t all have to agree. If something is not working, it’s ok to change it and to try things out.

I’m in a much better place in terms of confidence and understanding our medical practice as a business.

The programme showed me that we can still focus primarily on HIV care, but at the same time expand into also being a GP practice. For a long time, I thought I’d have to drop the HIV practice as I thought we’d be too stretched.

Interested in INSEAD's Strategic Innovation for Community Health programme? Have a look at the Strategic Innovation for Community Health web page.

Strategic Innovation for Community Health is the result of the Trust’s longstanding partnership with INSEAD to provide management education for healthcare professionals. INSEAD is a Flagship Partner within the Trust’s 2020 strategy and a key component of the Trust’s goal to advance knowledge and innovation in seeking to transform health care systems. The Trust works across the Europe, Middle East and Africa region in making a difference in human health through multiple social impact interventions. Currently within the Trust’s partnership portfolio there are over 70 active programmes run with partner organisations. For more information about the Trust and its activities, please visit

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