Fast Break from South Africa
How Stony Brook University launched former hoop star’s medical career
STONY BROOK, NY, March 5, 2013 – Growing up in a poverty-stricken village in South Africa, Lesego Andrew Goba, 27, never imagined that his journey to the United States and eight years at Stony Brook University — which began in 2005 with an athletic scholarship — would be life-altering. A former Stony Brook Seawolves Men’s Basketball star, the 6-foot-9-inch, 245-pound Goba hopes to reach new heights, not on the basketball court but at Stony Brook University Hospital, where he recently secured a full-time nursing position in the Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program (CPEP).
It is in CPEP that he reflects on the lessons of his early life to help those suffering from mental health disorders.
“The mental toughness and discipline I learned from my coaches helps me in nursing, and basketball taught me how to still function at an optimal level under stressful and exhausting situations,” said Goba, who said that being part of a healthcare team and working for the benefit of the patient is similar to being part of a basketball team striving toward winning a game.
For Goba, working in CPEP has taught him a lot about psychiatric nursing and the comprehensive services those patients need.
“I learned early on in life that when you do not have much and are faced with difficult challenges, the state of your mental health will determine the state of your quality of life; because, profoundly, how you perceive those challenges shapes your decisions, which eventually determines the experiences you have,” he said. “Every day I have the opportunity to assist people and enhance their quality of life by improving their mental health.”
When he was an undergraduate at Stony Brook, Goba cherished his time as a student, basketball player and captain of the team. These days his new passion and focus is on psychiatric nursing, a burgeoning field. Indeed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2010 and 2020 the number of nurses is expected to increase by more than 700,000 to reach nearly 3.5 million, an increase of 26 percent. Along those same lines, a 2012 report from the Institute of Medicine cites an aging population and a need for more mental health professionals, as nearly one in five older adults suffer from one or more conditions such as depression or dementia, or have substance abuse or drug dependency issues.
“Over time I realized that I had a specific interest in improving people’s mental health,” said Goba. “I drew from experiences growing up in South Africa and learned how a positive perspective on my hardships helped me gain new abilities and attributes that became advantageous for me, especially when I was faced with challenges here in the United States. I became fascinated with the idea that a shift in perspective can change one’s life experience; it can catapult a person from a two-star life experience to a five-star life experience, irrespective of external conditions and circumstances. That is what I wanted to do – help others attain this kind of perspective and improve their life experiences.”
Goba’s story began in his village of Inanda, where even the most basic necessities — such as running water or electricity — were scarce at times. He took public transportation one hour each way from his village to school, and would sometimes study at night by candlelight when the electricity went out. Despite such daunting circumstances, he excelled in academics, particularly in the sciences, and mastered three languages: English, Zulu and Xhosa.
Playing basketball became a passion for him when he was only 8 years old, inspired by a program he was able to watch at home about once a month called “NBA Inside Stuff.” For years he walked 45 minutes to play on the only basketball court in the area.
A standout basketball player in high school, Goba was already 6 feet 6 inches tall as a freshman when he was selected to the NBA Africa Top 100, a basketball camp in Johannesburg, South Africa, that incorporates basketball instruction and educational programs for the 100 best young players from African countries. Shortly after graduating high school in 2003, Goba met Sean Tuohey, co-founder of PeacePlayers International (PPI), an organization that uses basketball to bring children together to improve their communities.
Goba became a coach in South Africa for PPI and forged a relationship with Tuohey, who in 2005 signed him up for an Amateur Athletic Union basketball tournament in Washington, D.C. That’s where he met Seawolves Men’s Basketball Head Coach Steve Pikiell.
After watching Goba play, it didn’t take long for Pikiell to recruit him.
“He displayed excellent basketball skills, was an outstanding student, and had a strong interest in medicine and healthcare. That’s why I knew Stony Brook would be a great fit for him, on the court and in the classroom,” Pikiell said.
“I was, and still am, in awe of the sequence of events that unfolded in my life leading up to being at the right place and the right time, and having many doors opened for me by Coach Pikiell, an act by him and Stony Brook University that is beyond measure,” Goba said. “It changed my life, and I am forever grateful for that.”
While an undergraduate, Goba decided to pursue a career in healthcare. He graduated in 2009 with a BS in Health Sciences with a concentration in Public Health. Due to a previous injury, he was eligible to play an additional basketball season the following year.
One day during a home basketball game, Goba met Lee Anne Xippolitos, dean of the Stony Brook University School of Nursing, who had a courtside seat as the team’s honorary “coach of the day.” She had heard about Goba’s interests in healthcare from Coach Pikiell.
Goba spoke with Xippolitos — who is also a certified psychiatric nurse practitioner — after the game and in the weeks that followed. She shared with him the impact that psychiatric nurses can have on patients’ lives, the opportunities for practice and research that exist, and the need for more nurses in psychiatry.
“Immediately I saw that Goba had a sensitivity and keen interest in helping others and in psychiatry,” said Xippolitos. “There is also a special wisdom about him and strong character. He was confident about his choices and began to feel that psychiatric nursing would be his next goal in life.”
In 2011 Goba applied to the School’s 12-month Accelerated Baccalaureate Program, designed for those who already earned a bachelor’s degree in another field. After completing board examinations in fall 2012, he became a registered nurse.
As time went on, Xippolitos learned more about Goba’s life as a youth in Africa and his financial limitations. The School of Nursing had just received an anonymous $50,000 gift to assist students with financial needs, so Xippolitos awarded the scholarship to Goba.
“Goba possesses the qualities of a great nurse and one suited for psychiatric nursing,” said Xippolitos. “He is intelligent, intuitive, attentive, and understands the complexities of the human psyche.”
Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., MD, also spoke about how the University has guided Goba on his journey into nursing.
“From a basketball coach who recognized his potential, to his rise as a scholar-athlete and captain of the basketball team, to the inspiration he gained from a courtside interaction with a nurse administrator and educator that helped launch a career, it is extremely rewarding to see how Stony Brook University’s influence on this remarkable young man has been transformational,” he said.