Ikponmwosa Gabriel Ebengho
400L, Medicine & Surgery
University of Ibadan
Hello Dr Silvia, thank you for accepting this interview. We admire your work as a referee for FIBA and also as a frontline medical doctor in this pandemic. In having this discussion with you, we hope to enlighten medical students on the possibility of merging the practice of medicine and other professions. Could you introduce yourself, please?
Hello, everyone. I’m Silvia Marziali, Italian doctor and referee living in Rome.
What was it like growing up?
I had a beautiful childhood in the hills of central Italy, playing a lot of basketball.
Oh, very nice. How did you come to referee the sport?
Well, when I started medical school, I needed to be in a sporting environment and I missed basketball; therefore, I started refereeing. In the beginning, it was quite compatible with studying.
Wow, talk about passion. Is any member of your family into basketball professionally?
My father played high level until he was 22 years old when he stopped—it was too demanding to play high level and study medicine.
What inspired you to become a medical doctor?
Since I was a child, I have always volunteered with less fortunate and disabled people. I wanted to be a doctor to help others.
That’s…beautiful. Could you tell us where you had your medical education?
I studied at the “Cattolica del Sacro Cuore” University in Rome, which is connected to the Gemelli Hospital.
What was it like there—medical school?
Incredibly difficult—days and months of study without looking up, many summers without sea or holidays, many sacrifices.
I guess the end is well worth all the trouble. When did you get there—become a doctor, that is? And did you specialise?
I graduated in 2017 and took a master in emergency medicine. Now, I am attending a second master in aesthetic medicine.
What gives you joy as a medical doctor?
Being able to help people—seeing the relief in their eyes and the sense of liberation.
You must have watched a lot of basketball growing up, besides playing the sport. Who were your favourite player and team in the NBA?
Oh, that’s easy—Kobe Bryant above everything, and Lakers.
Haha, nice. What was the process of becoming a referee for FIBA like?
Very nice and unexpected. I was fairly young when I started attending international camps and taking my first steps on the long road to becoming a FIBA referee.
How has it been thus far?
Initially, my only intent was to just be the best version of myself. Then, I started looking up and trying to learn from more experienced referees.
A rock-solid strategy there—learning from those who have gone before us. How are you enjoying being a referee?
I like being on the field. I like the game and I like to think I can commit myself enough to make as few mistakes as possible. It’s a challenge with myself.
If you had to, how would you rate your basketball skill on a scale of 1-10?
It’s been a really long time since I played but I could say that before I quit, I deserved at least a 7.
Do you have a philosophy in basketball?
Yes. “Anything’s possible if you got enough nerve—play harder”.
Each game comes with its own pressure, I’m sure. How do you deal with that, especially as a female referee?
The pressure is always there, whether you are a woman or a man. Anyway, it makes me more productive and attentive, more prepared for any change.
How about the criticism that comes after or during a game? How do you handle that?
In the beginning, I suffered a lot. Now, I analyse what I am told and re-analyse the situation. I am a fairly objective person—if I am wrong, I admit it.
That’s quite admirable. How do you balance your practice as a medical doctor and your work as a referee? What challenges do you face?
There is no free time or time to waste. Either I was studying or I was around basketball. I was studying everywhere and to make up for the “lost” time, I gave up much of my personal life. Refereeing wasn’t too demanding at the beginning but subsequently, arranging them was very complex.
How has the pandemic affected your everyday practice as a medical doctor? Could you describe an average day in the hospital during this pandemic?
I started working non-stop and without schedules. I worked for the ministry of health and I only knew what I was going to do on a particular day when I got to work, not knowing when I would be going home. There were days when I worked 14-15 hours and days when I stopped at maybe 7 hours.
Amazing. And how has everyday life in Italy changed? I know Italy has been one of the countries most affected by this pandemic.
During the lockdown, it was very strange not to see a living soul around. The police checked everything and they almost always stopped me on my way to work.
I guess, considering the times, we can’t all be too careful. Having been away from the game so long (because of the pandemic), do you miss basketball?
At the beginning when everything was very messy, I didn’t have time to think about basketball. As soon as things got better, I started missing it.
Do you, in any way, regret becoming a doctor?
Of course not!!
Haha, all right. What are your hobbies?
I like cooking pies and cakes and reading books.
What’s your advice to people interested in sports and currently in medical school?
Don’t settle—especially when you feel differently from everything and everyone else—as if it were a fault to have a hobby, whatever it is.
If you could reincarnate, would you combine medicine and basketball again?
Thank you, Dr Silvia. This has truly been a pleasure.
Indeed, it has.
FIBA: Fédération Internationale de Basketball (International Basketball Federation)