Championing African Female Clinicians
Some life scenarios are simply strange. Why am I — a caucasian male from the Southeastern US — championing the work of female clinicians in Kenya?
As the Kenyans would say, “Imagine!”
I spent the day profiling female leaders at Kijabe Hospital in rural women to share their perspective and advice for International Women’s Day.
If you meet any of these brilliant women, you quickly come to a realization: they are changing the world and there are only two choices, watch them or join them.
I choose to join them.
Dr. Muma is building a pediatric oncology program from the ground up. Quietly, faithfully, with no huge fanfare or announcements. Just a growing group of children who arrive every Wednesday morning for treatment. Three years ago these children would have died, now they not only survive, they can have a great quality of life.
If you want to invest in Dr. Muma’s work specifically, you could sponsor a patient through chemotherapy treatment for less than $500. . .imagine finding a better cost-benefit oncology program anywhere on the planet.
If you want to invest in the creating other leaders like Dr. Muma, you would look to support medical training opportunities within East Africa. She traveled South Africa and Germany for training, but new opportunities are arising every year so that doctors can obtain sub-specialty training in sub-Saharan Africa.
Dr. Mbugua oversees several of the best medical education training programs in Kenya. The reputation is well known among applicants: to study at Kijabe will be VERY challenging, but turn a Medical or Clinical Officer into a gifted clinician.
For context, a Kijabe intern rotates through Obs-Gyn, Pediatrics, Surgery, and Internal Medicine/EM in the course of one year. The interns will learn the skills required to operate on their own in the far reaches of Kenya as they serve in remote areas and stretch limits and resources at government health facilities.
Says one student, “I love Kijabe. . .you refuse to accept that anything is impossible.”
Dr. Mbugua has seen her share of impossible situations in the ICU, where she cares for 10% of Kenya’s ventilated patients. She manages to treat these patients with boundless compassion. Tenderness is not a mere tag-line, Dr. Mbugua exudes tenderness and deep joy, and she carries this into her teaching role.
Michelle is right. Becoming a competent clinician is not easy. There are sacrifices and challenges. Hard work, sleepless nights, hunger, inadequate compensation. But love of the work, love of the craft of healing, love of seeing a 600gram preemie grow strong and go home. . .the love is worth the struggle.
I am married to a brilliant and very capable pediatric emergency medicine physician. There are sacrifices to being a female physician, but marriage and family do not have to be one of them. Arianna is an amazing mom and the best wife on earth. Her work as a doctor does not diminish that, if anything the opposite — I love her for it. My daughters think it is amazing that their mom can bring dead children back to life. How many moms can do that? My wife is a superhero.
Dr. Muma and Dr. Mbugua also have beautiful marriages. . .both are strong women married to talented surgeons. And it works for them. They have lovely children. They have made sacrifices, doubtless, but have not sacrificed love and family.
I am making a prediction: the conversation about global medicine will shift in the next decade.
Surgery, NICU/ICU, Anesthesia, Advanced Emergency training, Oncology — you will start to hear about these in reference to African Health care, and hear calls for investment in these areas. Train sub-specialists in sub-Saharan Africa.
If sanitation, vaccinations, and mosquito nets were the advances of the 20th century, in the 21st century, we will see subspecialty care arrive full-force in the developing world.
The future is not the industrial-process medical advances of the 20th century, amazing though they were. It is capacity-building among brilliant, innovative, 21st century clinicians — providing the infrastructure and tools they need to do great work.
The future is no longer only in vials, the future is in people.
Today is international women’s day and I would like to circle back to the original two choices.
Now that you know these brilliant African physicians. . .
Now that you have looked into the future. . .
Will you sit back watch these women as they change the world, or will you choose to join them?
Friends of Kijabe sponsors care for pediatric oncology patients and funds trainees in surgery, community nursing, critical care nursing, and other advanced training programs. Visit the website www.friendsofkijabe.org to contribute.