Success is not a one-time thing

Annet Alenyo

What you need to know:

  • Annet Alenyo: Being a surgeon was her dream but a visit to an emergency trauma training camp  raised her curiosity and made her the first trained and registered emergency medicine specialist in Uganda. 

Briefly describe your journey in the field of emergency medicine.
While I was an intern at Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital, one of my longtime friends and mentors, Dr Tendo, whom I had worked with told me about emergency medicine. At the time, I liked working in the Trauma Emergency Department and I always called Dr Tendo when I had a patient. One time he came to the window and told me to major in emergency medicine but I was determined to major in surgery because my elder sister is a surgeon.

He told me to think about it but I did not. When my best friend was applying to study emergency medicine in Malaysia, I escorted her to fill out her applications. The entrance into emergency medicine was through the life support courses. I watched an emergency physician at work and the ease with which they worked with medical and trauma emergencies was quite fascinating.

One day I woke up curious to know more about the speciality; I spent a lot of time reading about it and decided this was what I wanted to do. This was around 2011-2012 and there was no emergency training in Uganda. The only countries offering this were South Africa and Tanzania was just starting. South Africa had trained a lot of emergency physicians from what I read online so I decided to go to South Africa. 
I was working in Mulago as a medical officer at the time but did not have the emergency care skills so I knew the best place was to work in the ICU or emergency department. I volunteered for two years in ICU. I loved it. I worked with good passionate doctors and they taught me a lot. They solidified my interest and assured me that I was on the right path.

South Africa was a struggle since I did not have funding for the four-year Master’s degree course. I had to buy a car since I had to drive to different hospitals and cater for all the other bills. I had a young child, so when I was leaving for South Africa I had to take her to her grandparents in Rukungiri which was heartbreaking. My husband was not around, so it was tough. I managed to finish my Master’s degree because I had an incredible support system, my friends raised the money for my ticket. The money I saved was used to pay for my tuition.

How would you break down your job?
Raising my children is the most important job to me. My husband is the other important job; he is my biggest secret weapon. I encourage women who are not married and are in professional careers to choose their husbands really carefully because they determine the rest of your professional life; my husband is so supportive. He is my biggest cheerleader. He knows me so much and knows my needs and the right things to say and do. We take care of our children together and he did not mind changing diapers when the girls were young.

 I work as a full-time consultant and I support health systems strengthening. I support the team in Geneva, World Health Organisation Clinical Systems and Services. My other job is supporting different countries to build their emergency care system, what it is and what can make the system better. I do capacity building, support training designs, looking through documents and strategies which is something I enjoy. I enjoy systems because emergency care is a system dependent speciality.

What is it like working in a male-dominated field?
Most careers are male-dominated and they put a lot of strain on women. Many times women lose themselves trying to be men but emergency medicine plays to our strengths as women. 
We are generally gifted to multitask and we have a lot of foresight and hardwork comes naturally for us. Emergency Medicine is a calling within a calling. Doctors are called to do emergency medicine which is something your heart chooses, not your brain.

Women have always been worked hard from generation to generation and emergency medicine is a lot of hardwork. It is important to put your best foot forward whether you are male or female.

What are your non-negotiables?What kind of music do you do?
Anything that compromises my family is a non-negotiable; whatever I do has to go well with my family. It has to be okay with my husband and children. I do not take any step without discussing it with my husband and looking at the pros and cons. The integrity and hardwork that my parents instilled in me are my non-negotiables.

How have you managed to balance your personal life with your work?
There is a concept in emergency medicine called Triage where you attend to your sickest patient first and the least sick at the end of the line. I apply it to my daily life. The most urgent first but also anything to do with my family will always be top priority and it does not change. At the end of the day, there are so many balls that need to be juggled. It is essential not to neglect the other balls.

What encouragement do you give girls wishing to pursue this field?
You can do whatever you put your mind to. You can do whatever any man can do. Work hard, do not expect any favours and work for yourself. Give back to community.

What has been that one thing that drives you?
Making a difference in people’s lives. Knowing whatever you have done will make a difference in someone’s life whether someone knows or does not know you.

How would you describe success?
Success is a balance of having moderation. It is having a complete life.

What is that one thing you think Human Resource professionals should take seriously in a workplace?
Integrity, it cuts across everything. HR professionals should get people with integrity at workplaces.

How do you spend your time outside meetings, presentations and consultations?
I spend time with my family and watch movies with my daughters. I read books and games with them. We have movie nights as well. I like walking, it helps me clear my mind.

If you could have turned back the hand of time…
All the things I have done have brought me here so I am happy where I am. If I changed anything, I would be somewhere else.

Who are your role model and why?
My late mother. She was forced to get out of school but she pursued a government programme in adult education. I remember my young sister and I would help her read and write her name. She managed to raise us well selling vegetables in Bugolobi market and all of us are graduates.
My late father is my other role model. He instilled a lot of discipline and hardwork in us.

Advice to those interested in pursuing emergency medicine
Pursue excellence and success will run after you.