Dr. Grace Mbatia from Kenya: a pediatric oncologist change agent is born

Grace picture for postLast week we received an E-mail from one member of the second group of fellowship trainees, Grace Mbatia who shared her enthusiasm with the transformative aspect of the learning and training sessions of the joint 57357/Dana Farber Boston Children’s fellowship program. Grace is a certified pediatrician who practices at the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, the oldest hospital in Kenya. Founded in 1901, it is currently the largest referral and teaching hospital in the country.

Grace is one of the 600 African healthcare professionals 57357 is committed to train in various healthcare-related fields under the African Collaboration initiative. I had the chance of having a delightful chat with Grace about her 57357 experience after nearly 4 out of 28 months she gets to spend in Cairo for her training.

Excerpts of the chat:

How were you enrolled in this fellowship program and what do you hope to accomplish with it?

I got a phone call from the director of Kenyatta Hospital telling me that I was nominated along with two other pediatricians to go to Cairo for a fellowship degree in pediatric oncology. Honestly, I received the news with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was grateful they had selected me for this training. They must have noted my concern for all the children with cancer back home. On the other hand, I am a mother of a little 9 year old girl and it was simply unconceivable that I would leave her behind all this period. If I were to go to Egypt, a lot of issues needed to be solved with respect of my daughter’s stay with me. At t this point Grace’s face lightens up and she utters one of her most familiar expressions: “But God always provides”

Grace’s passion and enthusiasm for what she wishes to accomplish is contagious. She makes me travel with her to the Kenyatta children with cancer ward which she wants to transform into the best ever “comprehensive and compassionate pediatric oncology unit”

Grace is well aware of the many challenges facing her back in Kenya before she can realize her dream: the work load, limited diagnostics resources, the lack of awareness ……..nevertheless she is fueled by compassion and the firm conviction that every child with cancer deserves a chance to find cure. But what inspires Grace the most in her pursuit to improve the conditions of children with cancer in Kenya is definitely the example of her mentor and professor of pediatrics Ruth Nduati. Nduati has become a renowned international authority on breast milk transmission of HIV as she pursued to understand its epidemiology and biology and battled fiercely to prevent it in resource constrained settings.

Why are you so enthusiastic about the transformative aspect of the training at 57357?

Because this is exactly what I need in order to succeed in changing the conditions of children with cancer back home. Through the transformative learning sessions, I learn how to master communication with my peers and with my hierarchy;  I acquire the necessary skills to fight bureaucracy, I study the fundamentals of fundraising and advocacy, and I am taught on how to make people my allies and as passionate as I am for my cause.

What can you share with me on your training experience at 57357 thus far?

Bluntly, Grace gives me an objective and straightforward feedback on the sessions: I expected the seven week orientation sessions to be more practical. I completed 4 weeks of clinical pathology which were absolutely amazing thanks to the passion and devotion of all the department staff. I am appreciative and impressed that 57357 is able to always attract the best. I am trying hard to learn Arabic because in some sessions the Arabic language is alternatively used alongside the basic language of instruction which is English.

As I come to the end of my chat with Grace, I am overwhelmed by the passion and determination of this young woman who is committed to making the most out of this golden opportunity that God had in store for her:  bringing comfort and hope to the most helpless, the children with cancer.