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Dr Ken Muma: I could have been a priest, but picked medicine

Health & Science

His mother was a teacher who inspired him to get into the medical field. The way she interacted with her students in Kongowea, Mombasa County, and the ensuing gratification from it was enough for Dr Ken Muma to view medicine as a profession that can impact humanity.

When he told his mum that he had chosen to be a doctor as it was a noble profession, she retorted, “Why not a priest which is also a noble profession?”

"Such critical questions led to critical thinking that contributed to my being a physician.”

His dream of becoming a doctor were cemented by his love for science subjects in high school, especially biology.

With a smile, Dr Muma says he skirted the priesthood, noble as it is, because he wanted to get married, have a companion. Never mind that at such a tender age, the reasons for wanting to be a doctor were not as explicitly defined compared to his older years.

Dr Muma is now the CEO, AAR Hospital on Kiambu Road in Nairobi County.

He is married to Dr Sarah Muma, a paediatric oncologist, who has a passion for caring for children with cancer in low-income settings.

They have worked together for a number of years. Dr Muma says they have found a work-life-balance by switching off to family matters while at home.

“We have always understood the need for flexibility based on the fact that our jobs are demanding and that we need to accommodate one another,” says the paediatric surgeon.

But the journey has been arduous. It took Dr Muma 14 years to study paediatric surgery, making him one of the few paediatric surgeons in Kenya. Six years were spent in undergraduate studies, five to earn his postgraduate degree and another three to specialise in paediatric surgery.

He says picking paediatric surgery was a combination of different coincidences and one was observing how surgeons at the University of Nairobi conducted themselves besides the understanding that decisions have consequences: when well-orchestrated, the level of gratification for the patient and doctor can be immense.

“Just imagine a child who walks into a hospital with a congenital condition and walks out without it, that is usually quite gratifying and that is what I had seen from the surgeons,” says Dr Muma.

Being a paediatric surgeon, he says, is crucial as “you are making decisions about the future of a person and there is the need to have precision and empathy (the attitude needs to be more than the science) when dealing with a vulnerable child.”

After his paediatric surgical training in South Africa, he felt he had narrowed down too much and decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Business Administration at Strathmore University to better impact the medical field beyond the ‘cutting’ and medicine.

That was how he ended up in healthcare management.

One of his childhood dreams was working in a war-torn country, with Angola top on his list. But by the time he graduated from medical school, working in Sudan came calling.

He was there for one and a half years, treating “poor patients who needed services, then you realise that what you need to help them is not even there but then you must give a solution to the patient.”

Working in Sudan was both challenging and exciting, he says. It shaped how he mused up different solutions for myriad situations, especially as a CEO in different hospitals.

Dr Muma says healthcare has different phases and has slowly moved from the innovation phase where scientists invented antibiotics and surgical procedures before the access phase for people in need of healthcare.

Today, he says the phase of quality healthcare set in followed by the phase of value, which is a combination of value, access, quality while involving the patient’s experiences.

He believes that these phases are being experienced in different places on different levels and current medics need to understand the phase they’re operating in and be advocates for the next phase.

In his free time, Dr Muma plays rugby, goes hiking or riding bikes. He also plays squash, a game he used to play with his engineer father, a man of few words who used it to connect, bond with him.

Indeed, from his parents, one valuable lesson he picked and which he uses with his children was learning the difference between being a parent and being a friend.

“In my house,” he says, “the children can have an opinion only to a certain extent and that is when you become the parent to that child, and also to understand that friendship is a part of parenting but parenting is not equal to friendship.”

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