By Kefa Senoga
Listening to Joy Mwesigwa’s path to pursuing a course in human medicine at Uganda Christian University (UCU), one cannot help but conclude that, indeed, this was a predetermined route for the 21-year-old.
Mwesigwa was mesmerized with the world of medicine as early as age 10 when her parents — Dr. Albert Siminyu and Mrs. Resty Nanziri Siminyu — would take her to a pediatrician. Mwesigwa names one particular paediatrician, Dr Jamil Mugalu, who she says conducted his work with so much ease and admiration that it played a role in motivating her to consider joining the profession. Mugalu is a senior pediatrician at Uganda’s national referral facility, Mulago Hospital.
“I admire doctors who can make a diagnosis with ease and offer treatment that actually works while still being compassionate, kind and are able to listen to the challenges of patients and their families,” says Mwesigwa, a second-year student of Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery at UCU’s School of Medicine.
Mwesigwa says her heart and mind resonated with a course in medicine and surgery because “it is in line with my passion to help people, regardless of the situation, learn more about the complexities of the human body and give back to society.”
Even at home, she says, her parents supported her choice of career by offering financial and emotional support. “My father sometimes makes medical research in line with the course units I am pursuing at university, in order to have medical conversations with me,” Mwesigwa said from her school campus in Mengo, Kampala, during an interview that was conducted online.
For the two years that Mwesigwa has sat in the classroom at the medical school, she has been able to discover that every patient is unique in their own way, which means that learning never ends.
Because of the complexity and the exciting nature of the human body, Mwesigwa says there are many concepts she has not yet understood, but that the answer lies in her conducting more research.
For the two years that she has been studying the course, Mwesigwa says she is already able to debunk some age-old myths that she learned in her community. One of them, for example, is that rain causes malaria. “I have learned that people in my community normally associate most fevers with malaria, which isn’t entirely true.”
And she is well prepared to debunk many more such myths because she believes that part of the social responsibilities of a doctor is to correct the misconceptions that society has about health, medicines and vaccines.
She believes that the spread of an epidemic like the HIV chronic immune system disease in Uganda is exacerbated by the myths and misconceptions that the society is fed on. She says young people protect themselves more from pregnancy than contracting HIV, which should not be the case since HIV has no cure.
Being a devout Christian, when Mwesigwa was making choices on where to pursue her degree course, it was obvious where her choice would be. “The fact that UCU is a university set up on Christian principles, I believed it would offer me the platform to learn to be a good doctor as I also practice my Christian values.”
In UCU, she says she has found a home with reliable friends that support her academically and spiritually. She points out key figures like the Rev. Onen Ocen Walter, the UCU SoM chaplain and lecturers like Dr. Lwanira Catherine and Dr. Gerald Tumusiime, who she says have often offered her advice.
Her choice of UCU is not surprising, given that for her secondary school, she attended Gayaza High School and Seeta High School — schools with a firm foundation on religious doctrine. At Seeta High School, she was the head-girl, president of the school’s Interact Club and the head of the ushers in the school chapel. At UCU, she is the secretary of the Writers’ Society of the university’s School of Medicine and a choir leader in the same school.
The virtues that Mwesigwa says she possesses — honesty, patience, kindness and being a collaborative team player — are vital for her career growth. In fact, she hopes to take advantage of them to see how far they can propel her into achieving a specialty in neurosurgery and a doctorate in medicine.
She also hopes to be able to set up a health facility and extend free medical camps to the underprivileged, with support from donors. And to be able to extend pro bono services to the community, Mwesigwa would desire practicing her profession in Uganda.