A Lecturer in the Discipline of Optometry at the UKZN College of Health Sciences, Dr Diane van Staden, has been awarded her PhD from the Dublin Institute of Technology, a college that was a key partner in the establishment of the first ever Portuguese-language optometry programme on the African continent.
Van Staden was on a scholarship from the Irish Aid-funded programme.
‘I am extremely humbled by my PhD achievement,’ said van Staden. ‘Prior to being offered the Dublin scholarship, I had never considered doctoral studies and having grown up in Wentworth, there was always the perception that such achievements were for an exclusive few from privileged backgrounds.’
Van Staden joined UKZN from the development sector in 2011, having previously worked in academia at the University of the Free State where she completed a Master’s degree in Public Administration.
She says she always had an interest in public health and aspired to leadership within a public sector organisation as she saw these fields as pivotal in instituting development-linked change within society.
Van Staden obtained her Bachelor of Optometry degree from the then University of Durban-Westville in 1998. After practising as an optometrist in Cape Town for four years, she decided to pursue her interests in the then emerging field of public health optometry.
She contributed to the development of optometry in various capacities within Department of Health in both the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal, including the training of nurses and other mid-level personnel in primary eye care and vision screening.
In her doctoral research, van Staden designed a framework for the development of optometry in countries where the profession and its services have not previously existed.
Van Staden says she hopes results of her research will help inform planning for refractive error service provision and eye health planning towards the reduction of the global burden of blindness and vision impairment.
During her PhD study in Ireland, she was based in Durban travelling to Dublin periodically during the five-year term of her scholarship. While completing research work she became a wife and then a mother to two active boys, now aged three and four. She achieved all this while juggling a full teaching and research supervision load within her optometry discipline and other personal commitments.
‘I can only say that it is by God’s grace, hard work and determination that I managed to successfully complete my PhD in the time while juggling all these roles. I encourage all aspiring postgraduate students to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves as they open up a whole new world of learning and opportunity for meaningful contribution,’ added van Staden.