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Celebrating Women in Surgery: Dr Petronilla Ngiloi

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Dr Petronilla Ngiloi is a consultant paediatrician surgeon at Muhimbili National Hospital, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where we installed two Operating Rooms in 2017 before we officially became KidsOR. She was the second ever female surgeon to graduate in Tanzania just over 30 years ago. 

According to her, things have improved since, but more needs to be done. To celebrate International Women's Day 2022, we profiled remarkable women in surgery who are an inspiration, who break barriers, and who are at the top of their field. 

Women are extremely underrepresented in surgery and anaesthesia departments across the globe. How many women do you usually work with in your unit/department? T

he paediatric surgery unit is within the department of surgery, where there are about 40 surgeons. But in Paediatric surgery unit there are only 5 surgeons, of which two are female.

What are some of the challenges, if any, you’ve experienced as a female surgeon?   

The biggest challenges beside being a surgeon is that we have families, therefore, we still have to fully shoulder the responsibility of being a wife and a mother.

What advice would you give to your younger self when you started your medical career/ studies?  

The advice I would give to the young surgeon is they need to learn to balance /devout time for their families too. Sometimes surgeons we become too consumed with our work and forget to give precious time to our families.

What motivates you to keep on working in your field?  

What motivates me is the appreciations I get from my patients and parents. It is very satisfying. I go to strange places where I meet some of my patients, or parents of my patients or students, and in situations where I need a little assistance many occasions somebody pops who knows me, but I don’t remember them, and I get a fast-track service or helped out of difficult situations. And above all majority of my patients will always come back to say, “doctor I am very thankful my child is doing very well now I have nothing to pay you, but the Almighty God will pay you”. I find this kind of gratitude more rewarding than money.

Do you have a female role model in your field?   

On role models, I was inspired by one Dr Adela Materu, who was the first Tanzanian Lady surgeon. She graduated in 1982 and I graduated as the second Tanzanian female surgeon 10 years later in 1992. Since then, I felt I had inspired many surgeons: at least we are more than 50 for the whole country in different specialities.

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