Salute to those who taught us medicine with distinction

Monday July 16 2012

By Muniini K. Mulera

Dear Tingasiga:
My career in medicine over the last 40 years has been a journey of highs and lows, with each successive year and advancement humbling me with knowledge that I know less than I thought I did and I stand on the shoulders of giants whose shoes I cannot fill.
Without the excellent teaching of teachers who took raw high school graduates and shaped us into doctors with the knowledge and skills that would enable us to serve and continue to learn, it would not have been possible for us to be ranked among the members of this great profession.

The first person to welcome our class to the medical school on July 3, 1972, was Dr Peter H. Sebuwufu, professor and Head of Anatomy. He effortlessly imparted an infectious enthusiasm for medicine that eased our anxiety. Prof. Sebuwufu, together with Dr John M. Kiggundu and Dr F. M. Kiyaga, spent the next 12 months steering us through the innards of human cadavers that we dissected down to the bones. It was the foundation upon which we would build careers that would span the entire spectrum of medical sciences.

The first two years, arguably the most challenging given the complexity of the basic medical sciences, could have easily discouraged one from continuing one’s pursuit of medicine. Indeed, one recalls with undiminished sadness our classmate who committed suicide in October 1972, after leaving a note that expressed an angst engendered by what he said was suboptimal academic performance. In fact, he was a very smart student whose unrecognised depression led to a preventable death.

We had a group of very skilled and dedicated teachers who helped us make sense of these tough subjects. In addition to the anatomy teachers, we were taught basic sciences by, in no particular order, Dr Samwiri Kajubi, Dr Raphael Owor, Dr J.W. Mugerwa, Dr John Rwomushana, Dr George Kirya, Dr Lutalo-Bbosa, Dr D. Kyegombe and Dr Y. Mawerere.

The transition to the third year of medical school marked our first encounters with real living patients. We did not mind being called “doctors”, though we knew how terribly inadequate our claim to the title was. However, our knowledge gaps were soon plugged with knowledge and skills imparted by teachers of the various disciplines in medicine and paediatrics like Dr Paul G. D’Arbela, Dr Charles L. Ssezi, Dr John Jjagwe, Dr Bwogi Kanyerezi, Dr John Nsibambi, Dr A. Obace, Dr Charles Olweny, Dr M. Otim, Dr John Muguma, Dr James Makumbi, Dr Latimer Musoke, Dr S.B. Kintu, Dr Christopher Ndugwa, Dr S.R. Sebikaari, Dr James Kahirimbabyi, Dr Rachel Masembe, Dr John Owange-Iraka, Dr Gideon Tindimwebwa, Dr G.W Zirembuzi, Dr V. Ongom, Dr M. Kakande, Mr Stephen K. Lwanga, Dr Josephine M. Namboze, Dr Stephen B. Bossa and Dr Joseph Muhangi.

If medicine and paediatrics were very tough because they entailed unravelling hidden ailments, especially in an era that lacked tools like MRI, CT and ultrasound scanners, the surgical disciplines were nerve-wracking because they brought us face to face with blood and guts of living human beings. On hand to teach us were outstanding surgeons and obstetricians including Dr S. Kyalwazi, Dr George Kamya, Dr Alexander Odonga, Dr John Sekabunga, Dr F. Bulwa, Dr F. Mmiro, Dr I. J. Batwala, Dr John Luwuliza-Kirunda, Dr Charles Lwanga, Dr S. K. Nsibirwa, Dr E. Bazira, Dr J. W. Rwanyaraare, Dr Charles Ssali, Dr J. Kiryabwire, Dr David Kisumba, Dr Lukanga-Ndawula, Dr J. Gwasaze, Dr J. Otiti and Dr George Kityo.

And then there was Dr Vinand Nantulya, a young intern who had recently graduated from the University of Dar es Salaam when he came to Mulago Hospital in my final year of medical school. He, together with a group of midwives, taught me most of the obstetrics that I know, and did so with a meticulousness and exemplary professionalism that remains vivid 36 years later.

No doubt I have forgotten one or two of my teachers. What I have not forgotten is my teachers’ exemplary dedication to duty and to our interests as their students.
Many of them are now dead. Others are in retirement, with some struggling to survive on decimated savings, unable to afford the healthcare they so freely gave and taught their fellow countrymen and women.

A few of them are still in active practice in Uganda and abroad. One or two are leaders of educational and other institutions and departments. But nearly all have been forgotten by the country they served with great dedication under very difficult circumstances.
Not that one expected roads and buildings to be named after them. Public acknowledgement of their exemplary service and education of some of East Africa’s doctors would have been sufficient.

As it is, their story lies buried in thousands of scholarly papers that are inaccessible to the majority of their countrymen. Yet to many of us they stand tall among true Ugandan heroes. And so we dedicate this column to their honour, in celebration of their distinguished service to their country and to humanity.

Dr Mulera is a Daily Monitor columnist based in Canada.
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