Thursday, February 23, 2012


Auma Bonyo, Nairobi, Kenya

As doctors prepare for mass action on 5th December to protest their incredibly low pay and unacceptable work conditions, a lot has been highlighted about the plight of doctors in Kenya. Enough can never been said, and I therefore sought to highlight our plight as female medics.
Medicine has always been one of those prestigious careers that many if not all have aspired at some point in time to be a part of. Also termed as a ‘noble profession’, it is a career that has brought many a tear of joy to a parent that watched their child being crowned after having achieved the fete. But it has also brought tears of anguish to one a parent whose child committed suicide after having been frustrated going through medical school to please the parent. 
I don’t know what it is about being a doctor that is so attractive. Whether it is the sheer power and mystery that surrounds it or simply the thrill of putting on the white coat or the prospect of a padded wallet, I will never know. What I am sure of is that it is neither the sleepless nights nor the continuous rummaging through thick books nor the constant insults from seniors that attracts people to it. Or could the heroism of going through the hurdles and emerging a victor be akin to a native 'Maasai moran' literally breaking the jaw of a lion with his bare hands?  
For a female doctor, it is even a greater attainment to go through and succeed in a once male dominated field. People celebrate your newly acquired status but oblivious of the struggles that come with it. Even as a student, when you perform better than the men, they attribute your success to your pretty face or curvy hips but when you fail it is something to be expected. As such, you end up struggling more to prove yourself. Once in the job market, your title loses its meaning because you are constantly reduced to ‘aunty, sister or siste’ and the male nurse or attendant gets all the glory and admiration as the ‘daktari’ or doctor. Or you wake up enthusiastically to go to work despite your meagre pay only to reach the patient’s bedside and the patient demands to see the doctor! This is because as a woman, you cannot be the doctor!  
Once you earn your coveted title, society assumes that you have been pushed into another league where you earn more than any other professional in the country. In fact when having a social chat, you refrain from mentioning the word doctor because immediately it is mentioned, the men shy from telling you what they do or they begin to use phrases such as ‘I am a mere lawyer..’ thereby elevating you to this ‘god-like’ status because of an empty title. In essence, medicine kills your social life; people either avoid you or relate with you but with pre-conceived ideas. They look at your clothes and assume them to be high end fashion and they get dumbfounded when you tell them that you bought it from a second hand seller at ‘Toi’ market. In fact, a Kenyan man who ventures to date a doctor always has to think of how much dowry he will have to part with; or if he will spend the rest of his life breaking his back to pay ‘instalments’ for this female doctor who is so out his league.

When your friends or relatives see you going on foot, they label you as ‘stingy’, they simply do not understand that you cannot afford a car because your earnings are too mediocre and you have to save your earnings to go for further education in the hope of getting something better. When your patient meets you in a public vehicle, they comment, ‘Hata wewe daktari uko hapa?’ I was once labelled as being so ‘humble’ that I took ‘matatu’ rides despite the fact that I could afford a decent ride and avoid mingling the lesser commons.
As soon as you decide to further your studies, guns are drawn out ready to shoot. The specialities are male dominated and you are asked at entrance level if you intend to get married, have children as if these are the greatest crimes one can commit. I don’t even know why they interview women-they might as well have big signs on the doorposts written ‘No procreating, emotional species with anything less than a six pack allowed in here!’ These are just a few illustrations of what doctors and especially female doctors experience.
 So even as doctors go about picketing on the 5th and beyond, it will just be the beginning for female doctors who will still have even more to fight for. A positive achievement on the 5th is that when people see female doctors picketing, they will realise that female doctors exist and in large numbers. Wait a moment; or will they get confused and imagine that those are nurses standing in solidarity with their doctors?
About the author: Young medical doctor; a general practitioner..absolutely fun and laughter and friends. Life is what you make it! A christian-God is my first love...

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