Our Surgical Spotlight this month

Dr. UMUGWANEZA Nathalie

Dr. UMUGWANEZA Nathalie

I was born on November 15th, 1992, at Nyamasheke, a district in the Western Province of Rwanda. It is approximately 200 km away from Kigali city. That is also where I grew up.

Being the oldest child in my family, my favorite memory growing up is how much I loved caring for my sisters when they were babies. I also remember how close we were and the great times we had playing together.

I have always wanted to be a doctor for as long as I can remember. As early as primary school, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer used to be “a doctor,” and that did not change over time. This desire grew from my passion for helping those in need and serving others. In addition, I grew up in a small community near a missionary hospital, and both my parents are health care workers. This also markedly inspired me to make my choice of becoming a doctor.

When I was in medical school, I was not sure which specialty I liked most. I finally choose to pursue surgery when I was an Intern doctor (right after graduation from medical school). I worked at a referral hospital in the Northern province. I found myself drawn to surgery when I realized the severe shortage of surgical care providers and the long waiting lists of patients who need surgery. From there, I felt a calling to become a surgeon. Additionally, I like the “hands-on” nature of surgical care and how the effects on patients are immediate and sometimes lifesaving.

Currently, I am COSECSA FCS General Surgery trainee at the University Teaching Hospital of Kigali (CHUK). My favorite thing about general surgery is how diverse and versatile it is. The scope of general surgery is broad, and we get to care for patients with various conditions and different age groups. We also develop skills from other surgical subspecialties, which are valuable in caring for patients, especially in settings where the surgical workforce is still limited.

My most memorable case is a child I cared for as an Intern doctor. At that time, I did not have a lot of experience in trauma care. I was freshly graduated from medical school and had not attended to severely injured patients independently. I was on call at the emergency department and received a polytrauma 6-years-old child following a road traffic crash. The child had many injuries, including chest trauma, and during my initial assessment, the child was in severe respiratory distress with impending arrest, and I diagnosed tension pneumothorax. Even though I felt very stressed due to how rapidly the child was deteriorating, I was able to apply my knowledge and care for this child. I immediately did a needle decompression followed by chest tube insertion and saw a drastic improvement in the clinical status. The child did well and eventually was discharged home.

My role model and biggest influence is my father. He is also a general surgeon and has always set a good example for me to follow. I am inspired by his work ethic, how he puts patient care above everything else, and his attitude towards people around him. I am grateful to have him as someone I look up to. 

My biggest supporter is my mother. When I came to her with my decision to become a surgeon, she was so supportive and encouraged me to pursue my dream. On this journey as a surgical trainee, with all the ups and downs, she has been and continues to be my number one cheerleader.

My experience as a woman in surgery has been great. Knowing that women can achieve anything they set their minds to helps me stay confident and strong. Before starting my training, I heard discouraging comments about how women should not do surgery due to how demanding it is. But I was fortunate to have women surgeons who had taken the journey before me and proven those speculations wrong. So far, being a woman has not hindered me from achieving my academic goals and care for patients. Additionally, my teachers and colleagues have not looked down on me just because I am a woman. I am positive that I am on the right path as a woman in surgery and look forward to achieving more on this journey.

I am looking forward to completing my FCS General Surgery training and pursue subspecialty training as well. Another great hope for me is to give back and share my knowledge by teaching young generations of doctors and surgeons.

When I have free time, I like going for runs and walks, especially in wide-open fields. I also enjoy watching movies, reading books, and cooking.

Surgery is very interesting and a great career choice. If you are passionate, committed, and believe in yourself, you will indeed become successful.

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