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This Doctor Can: My quest to become the best doctor in Uganda

East, Central and Southern Africa College of Physicians (ECSACoP) trainee, Dr Ezra Nnunda Kibirango talks us through his journey into medicine.

I’m from a family of eight: my mum, six brothers and a sister. We would have been nine but the first-born died young, of HIV.

My dad relocated to the United States from our home in Uganda to work hard for us to have a better life. So my mothers, as I call them — Mrs Mary Gladys Kakeeto Lukubo, my biological mum and Dr. Noreen Kaleeba, raised us. We were lucky to have two mums because life was tough; my mother worked hard as a nurse and physiotherapist, and she travelled a lot with Dr Noreen. Dr Noreen’s husband, Uncle Christopher, had died of AIDS. So together with my mum and other friends, Dr Noreen founded TASO, an amazing nationwide organisation that supports families living infected and affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Professor Elly Katabira, my paediatrician then, was the first person to inspire me to become a doctor as a youngster.

My mum sacrificed a lot so that we could get all a decent education. After school, I was admitted to study Human Nutrition and Dietetics on a government sponsorship at Makerere and almost went for it as I was worried I wouldn’t be able to stump up fees for the expensive private medical course it took to become a doctor. But I knew it wouldn’t suit me so I held out for a better opportunity. That arose when I had a chance to study Medicine at Mbarara University of Science and Technology, thanks to a lovely lady Ms. Angella Nakato, the then Deputy Academic Registrar. I am forever indebted to her.

The course was far from easy, and in my third year, I nearly quit. Some of our lecturers were not so nice to us and made studying for the profession more than unpleasant. They made me feel totally inadequate and at times judged me unfairly and failed me on purpose, making me hate the difficult programme even harder. But I persevered as I couldn’t let my mum down, not after all she’d done to put me through school up to that point.

I want to make my country proud. I want to be one of the best physicians in my country.

Dr Ezra Nnunda Kibirango

It was at university that I met one of my greatest inspirers and motivators in life, the love of my life, my wife now who was pursuing a degree in Pharmacy and has been a great inspiration and support in my life. I am forever grateful and indebted to you my wife, Mrs Asiimwe Pamela Nnunda.

Luckily, I got an internship at Mbale Regional Hospital, under the guidance of Dr Stephen Obbo (who is now the Medical Director of Lira Regional Referral Hospital, the other ECSACOP Training site). He was brilliant, flamboyant and the first physician I’d met who had real style and a verve about him. However, the Government never paid our salary on time. I had to borrow from family and work extra hours to get by. My clothes had all been eaten by the rats which were my room-mates at that point, and I was pretty miserable. Then my mum had some serious cardiac issues, so I had to move back to Kampala, to be near her and attend to her so I had to sit out three months away from internship.

Fortunately, I was able to transfer to Mengo Hospital (in Kampala) in order to finish my internship. The Head of Interns, Dr Margaret Mpalampa, was generous enough to give me that opportunity, for which I am eternally grateful. She also treated me like a son and took me under her wing, mentoring me into the doctor I am today.

After the internship, I was offered the position of Medical Officer at Mengo Hospital, a post I’ve held for the last five years. I enrolled in ACLS training and have enjoyed doing a lot of outreach in that area, going to schools and churches to deliver first aid and CPR training as well as carrying out trainings in the hospital.

It was around that time that the Head of Internal Medicine at Mengo, Dr David Muyanja got it in touch. Dr Muyanja has been one of my greatest teachers, inspirations, mentors and one of the main reasons I stuck with my interest in Internal Medicine. He told me about the East, Central and Southern Africa College of Physicians (ECSACOP) for the first time. I went to the website and immediately thought, this is it, my golden opportunity; my prayers have been answered.

I am so proud to be one of the first four ECSACOP trainees in Uganda. Attending the ECSACOP Scientific Conference in Zambia this year has been the best thing I’ve done in my career so far. It gave me the opportunity to meet people whose books I’ve read and who I’ve only ever heard about.

I got a message from my mum just today saying she’d never been as proud of me as she is right now.

I want to make my country proud.  I want to be one of the best physicians in my country.

I want to also mention a number of people who have been of great support to me on this journey. My elder brothers Micah and Julius, they have been such strong pillars to me. I want to thank the physicians at Mengo: Dr Lumu William, Dr Eleku Simon and Dr Susan Nakireka, who have mentored me and pushed me to pursue the one specialty I fell in love with and who have continued to be great teachers and mentors.

Would you like to share your experience of becoming a doctor? Get in touch on Twitter via @thisdoctorcan.