It is not every day that you find a doctor who specialises in more than two fields. It is even rare to find one who is an expert in children, STDs and skin problems.
Meet 57-year-old Dr Peninah Kitili, the only expert who wears the hat of a paediatrician, dermatologist and veneriologist (sexually transmitted infections specialist) in the country.
And it does not stop there; she has an extra cap — she is the first woman to head the Dermatology Department at the Kenyatta National Hospital.
Even with her achievements, Dr Peninah, is downright humble.
“I love to serve people. That is why I am doing all this. I just want to help as many people as I can,” she says.
Inasmuch as she has immersed herself in Medicine, it was the last career she thought she would pursue.
“My mother was a teacher and my father a district land adjudication officer. I always admired my mum and her work, so I grew up wanting to be a teacher,” says Dr Peninah who attended Kikaso Primary School in Machakos where she grew up.
So what made her change her mind from being a teacher?
“While in Precious Blood Kilungu, there was a nun I always saw reading and she was one of our teachers. I thought if becoming a teacher required that much reading, then I did not want to be one. I always did well from just the lessons in class without having to read too much afterwards,” she points out.
When she went to campus, she focused on a Bachelors degree in Agriculture. A course that would bring her closer to what her father did. But along the way, she changed her mind.
“When I attended one of the classes, I noticed that most of the girls were people I used to beat. I felt I needed to choose something superior to what they were pursuing so I took up Medicine,” she explains.
Despite reading not being her favourite pass time, Peninah says the transition was smooth. She finished her Medicine degree in 1984 and in 1987 enrolled for a Master’s degree in paediatrics at the University of Nairobi.
In 1994, she enrolled for another Master’s degree in dermatology and venereology at the Medical School in the University of Vienna, Austria.
Why all these specialities?
“I love challenging myself and I thought it was fascinating to be equipped with all this knowledge,” she says.
With a lucrative CV like hers, once she was done with her studies, it was easy to get a job. She was absorbed at Kenyatta National Hospital where she has been for the last 30 years.
She is one of only six dermatologists who work in public service. She also consults in different hospitals, including Mater Hospital, Gertrude’s Children Hospital and Nairobi Hospital among others.
From the interview, it is clear that she passionate about babies. “I love children and when I see them playing, it gives me a certain kind of fulfilment. Some people get annoyed when they are around children, but for me, it is no bother,” says the peaditrician.
She is equally passionate about skincare and offers free advice to women: “Some of these products that women use have chemicals that can cause irreversible damage on the skin,” she warns.
She plans to continue practicing paediatrics and dermatology even after her retirement.
“This is my life and calling. I will keep doing it even after in retirement. It fulfils me,” she says with passion.
Her parting shot: “Women should pursue dermatology. We do not have enough dermatologists in Kenya yet there are so many people who need the expertise of such specialists.”
I enjoy medicine, but my family comes first
Busy as she may be, Dr Peninah is a wife, a mother and a grandmother. She has effortlessly balanced these roles over the years.
“I have three grown up children — two boys and one girl. They all have careers but none of them took up medicine. I prioritised and planned my schedule and made sure I had time for my children. I picked them from school every day.”
She says she made sure she never lost touch with them because of her career.
“It is all about time management, prioritising and a little planning. When my children were younger, I had to plan my day to ensure I am done with my activities by 5pm when my maternal instincts would kick in and I forget about Medicine. I had to leave the office in time to beat traffic to pick my children from school,” she explains.
Dr Peninah is also a proud grandmother of four, and often stays with her grandchildren during the school holidays. Her deliberate effort to make time for her grandchildren is evident during the interview. Her grandson and the oldest of all her grandchildren, rushes her to finish the interview. She reveals that they indeed had plans and he felt the interview was getting in the way.
“We have plans to do something with him later,” she says.
She admits that despite her busy schedule, she is not one to take time off and just stay at home.
“I prefer to be busy with something. When I am not practicing Medicine, then I am involved in some activity. I have joined several groups; I am the chairperson of the Precious Blood Kilungu Secondary School Old Girls Association, which raises and pays school fees for poor students in the school,” she says.
She is also an honorary lecturer at both the University of Nairobi and the Kenya Medical Training College. She is also involved in reviewing and guiding post-graduate doctors on their projects.