Dr Beth Engelbrecht is an Emeritus Head of Department of the Western Cape Health Department, an Honorary Associate Professor of UCT School of Public Health, involved in the Oliver Tambo leadership Program, and Faculty member for the Institute of Health Improvement (IHI), an international NGO.

She matriculated at Diamantveld High School in Kimberly as head girl, also obtaining national colors for Netball and an athletics bursary to support her medical studies at the Free State University. Here she obtained her MBChB in 1991 followed by a diploma each in Health Administration and Community Medicine, as well as a Masters in Family Medicine in 1989.

Whilst working her bursary time back as District Surgeon, the deficiencies in clinical forensic services and in social justice urged her to move from working IN the system, to working ON the system as a health leader, contributing to social justice and equity.

At the age of 32 she was appointed a Director in the Free State Public Health sector where she contributed to the health system transition of the new democratic government in 1994. She was instrumental in mobilizing communities and pulling together a fragmented health system in setting up Health Districts and building of clinics in the Free State.

Married, with 4 children, she accompanied her husband to Cape Town on his transferal and joined the Health Systems Trust NGO for 3 years, focusing on management development at subdistrict level.

In 2001 she started her 20-year senior leadership journey in the Western Cape, first as Deputy Director General (DDG), and concluded her career as the first female Head of Health in the Province (2015 – 2020).

During her journey she was exposed to multiple iterations of the complexity and multiplicity of a complex health system.

As DDG she was responsible for all health services including community based, primary health care, emergency and forensic pathology services, as well as all acute and chronic hospital services. In this period, she was instrumental in connecting the various components of the health system for improved health impact, strengthening leadership of hospitals and establishing a system of “Coordinating Clinicians” in support of Clinical Governance and Quality Improvement. Continuous austerity realities honed her leadership and negotiation abilities for improved resourcing and system capabilities.

She sees herself as a student of health systems, complexity, leadership, governance and learning. She invests in lifelong learning approaches, even setbacks, and incorporate learnings into doing and doing things differently. She calls on meta-skills – making sense of complexity, give direction, find alignment, ensure a shared approach, seek self-awareness with creativity inherently built on the way.

She has been playing a leading role in the Whole of Society Approach intersectoral collaboration initiative with 13 other Western Cape provincial departments to find ways to improve the lives of people in 4 learning sites.

She has recognized Organizational culture as a key transformative lever, the power of human connectedness as the competitive advantage, relationships of trust, and values of ethics, integrity and care. She has established several local and national learning collaboratives focusing on leadership, learning and health system strengthening towards universal health coverage.

Her concern about the wellbeing of healthcare workers during COVID-19 saw her establishing a Health System Strengthening Initiative in support of Healthcare Workers across three provinces during 2020/21.

In 2020 the Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation awarded her the best HOD in the country across 9 provinces, each with 13 departments.

She has authored several articles and chapters in health system, leadership and governance topics.