Surgical Spotlight

Every month in this section we will highlight a WiSA member from a different member country. This month Dr Ainhoa Costas-Chavarri talked with Dr Phyllis P. Kisa from Uganda about her experiences in surgery as well as being the first COSECSA fellow to earn two fellowships by examination.

Phylis Kisa

What is your full name?
My full names are Phyllis P. Kisa.

When and where were you born? Where did you grow up?
I was born in Tororo, a town in Eastern Uganda. I grew up all over Uganda but predominantly in Kampala. My father’s job took us all over the country.

What is one your favourite memories of growing up?
Watching MGM classic movies with my brothers between midnight and 6 am. It was a stolen pleasure.

When and how did you decide to become a doctor?
I did not always want to be a doctor.

The education system in Uganda dictates a lot where you end up. I had excelled in my ‘O’ Level exams, and between my mother and teachers, they decided that I must study Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Subsidiary Math. I wanted to study history and literature and be a tour guide, but I obviously did not win this argument. I ended up doing my mother’s choices with the exception of art instead of math. These subjects dictated what I could apply for in University. I again passed well and ended up in medical school at Makerere University in Kampala, which was my 1st choice.

I breezed through medical school but only felt like I was in the right profession when I started my internship at a district hospital. Being responsible for patients, albeit under supervision, making the day to day decisions about their care and seeing an impact, positive or negative, made me affirm that I was in the right place.

When and why did you choose surgery?
Very early on, Paediatrics was my favourite. I declared that I would be a paediatrician if I specialised. Although I have to admit that one of my fondest memories as a medical student was during a pericardiectomy (for TB constrictive pericarditis). It was exciting; but not to deviate from the tale, I went to internship with no glimmer of desire towards surgery. I ended up as a medical officer on the surgical ward because no one was willing to, though I still had a mind to specialise in Paediatrics.

My boss at Lacor Hospital, Mr Martin Ogwang, a very gifted surgeon and teacher, started dropping hints about my becoming a surgeon. I, of course refused these hints. He employed the help of other surgeons who were good mentors too; John Craven (retired surgeon from York, UK) and Prof Armin Pycha (urologist from Italy). They all started badgering me about this. I must admit that I enjoyed surgery, it was exciting and I was a good study. Eventually my boss played the paediatric card. He told me that I could still be a doctor for children in surgery. If I completed my general surgery training, I could go further and be a paediatric surgeon. It seems that all I wanted to do was work with children, and early in 2009, I made the decision to train further in surgery. Surprise! Surprise! The decision made me happy, and all the people “bugging” me settled and moved on to supporting me. I immediately applied for MMED Surgery. You have to know that I had already enrolled for MCS ECSA, a year prior. Pushed by my boss, I thought that since I was spending so much time in surgery, I might as well get some “paper” from it.

How did you decide to pursue two fellowships?
Once I made the decision to become a surgeon, it was always with the intention to become a Paediatric Surgeon. I always intended to become a general surgeon first and then sub-specialize in Paediatric Surgery. I never knew that I could just do Paediatric Surgery directly.

How did it feel to be the first COSECSA fellow to earn 2 fellowships by examination?
It felt surreal. I thought that others had done it my way before. I was not expecting to be part of the history of COSECSA in this way. Surprise.

Who is your role model/biggest influence in your life and why?
In truth, I have many people I look up to. They model different areas of my life and it’s difficult to choose one. I’m one of those that embrace all experiences in my life as “a school day”.

Who is your biggest supporter?
This too is tough. I have so many cheerleaders. My family has invested in this, my husband is very supportive and all my professional mentors work hard to ensure I succeed. They all take pride in all my achievements. It’s a great feeling to have such a network of people supporting me.

How has your experience as a woman in surgery been so far?
Mine has been a good experience. I work hard and learn even faster. My teachers and colleagues recognise this and I have been respected and treated accordingly. It is a challenge working with jealous people, but the people that matter do not treat me any different because I’m a female. I admit to having a huge male support group. In fact, most of the petty friction is from fellow women surgical trainees.

What are your hopes/plans for the future?
I hope to never write another academic examination, but never say never.
On a personal note, I would like to settle away from “student mode” and move into “family mode”.
Professionally, I just want to do my job, mentor a bunch of people along the way making a huge difference in children’s lives in both Urology and General Paediatric Surgery.

What do you do for fun/leisure/hobbies?
I love travelling, meeting new people, listening to music of the 70s, 80s and 90s, and classical music, watching musicals on stage, playing minesweeper/hexaper, and my absolute favourite is reading novels.

Is there anything you would like to say/share with other young women who may be interested in surgery?
Follow your heart but also listen to people around you. Sometimes they know you better than you know yourself. Humility is a huge key to learning. Be eager to learn. If you are, people will want to teach you. Do take time to enjoy your hobbies.

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