Joyce Soinda Gitangu, 40, tapped into her US experience in children’s dentistry to set up her own practice back at home, she shares what it took to start the venture and how she learned to cater to local needs.
I graduated from the University of Alabama, Birmingham, where I earned a BSc degree (Bachelor of Science) in 2002.
On August of 2004, I enrolled in Tufts University Dental School and received a Doctor of Dental Medicine degree in 2008. I later joined Harvard School of Public Health, where I received a Master’s in Public Health, with a focus on Health Policy in May 2012.
I am also a Fellow, International College of Dentists and Fellow, Pierre Fauchard Academy. Further, I am clinical dentist currently licensed in Kenya and the US (Massachusetts).
I originally worked as a Dentist in Boston, Massachusetts for six years as the State Dental Director at KoolSmiles for Kids. I moved back to Kenya in 2014.
Back home in Kenya, I noticed a gap for a children’s dental clinic in Nairobi. This presented an opportunity to open a clinic for kids.
This greatly appealed to me as it provided an opportunity to leverage the experience and expertise I had acquired abroad.
What happened next
I began Dental Smiles on December of 2014. Dental Smiles offers all services in the scope of dentistry.
We focus on preventive dental care and maintenance treatments designed to keep the teeth, gums, and mouth healthy by preventing tooth decay, gum disease, and other issues.
Although we initially set out to open a dental clinic specifically for kids and their parents (family-oriented approach), as we continued, we saw a need to expand services to adults and geriatrics.
Running a start up
I found that the business environment and the heath seeking behaviours here in Kenya were different from what I was used to abroad.
Most clients abroad are proactive as they believe in prevention. They schedule regular appointments each year and fastidiously practise good oral hygiene habits. In Kenya, most dental patients are reactive/event-based. Reactive patients might not take care of their oral health until it starts causing major problems. They visit the dentist when they are experiencing pain, have trouble eating, or other major issues affecting their daily life.
I had to fine-tune my approach based on the local needs. This process was challenging, along with getting the company structure in place and gaining a comprehensive understanding of the local laws and regulations, the legal intricacies of government rules and regulations that will dictate your business practices from day one. Also, getting the licences and permits to practise as a dentist in Kenya was an uphill task that required a lot of time, significant financial investments, and above all, patience to follow through.
Where I am now
The business is steadily growing with a healthy clip of new customers in addition to existing ones.
There’s a strong demand for dental services, hence we expanded into a bigger space accommodating five operatories, and added new equipment in 2018 to mitigate the growing demand.
We also started with three employees and now we are 13. We are definitely in a good place and have stayed afloat and thrived in tough economic times.
If you want to be self-employed, be prepared to wear many hats. I wish someone had told me that I would be a doctor, a handyman, an accountant, a marketer, a graphic designer, a real estate specialist, a landlord, a decorator, a repairman, a counsellor, a credit agency, and a salesman.
Secondly, when hiring employees, making sure they’re a good fit and share your venture’s core values, and importantly invest in them because they are your biggest asset.
Lastly, ensure you have fully functioning processes that allow operations to run effectively and efficiently even when you are not there. I only work 2-3 days a week. Lastly, above all, let go and let God, the universe has got your back!