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Celebrating Women in Surgery: Dr Phyllis Kisa


Dr Phyllis Kisa is a paediatric surgeon and paediatric urologist at Mulago National Referral Hospital in Uganda, which is adjacent to Makerere University College of Health Sciences, where Dr. Kisa is also a lecturer. KidsOR installed three dedicated children's Operating Rooms in Mulago Referral Hospital in 2019. 

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? 

There are two Paediatric anaesthesiologists (who are 2 of the 4 paediatric anaesthesiologists in Uganda), 2 paediatric surgeons, 1 fellow, and several nurses both in the operating room, clinic and on the ward. The residents are transient and are not a constant on the unit. Majority of these are male. 

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

The main challenge I have experienced started after having my son. I am a full-time mother and a full-time paediatric surgeon and lecturer. I have difficulty trusting the babysitters at home. There are too many horror stories of them kidnapping babies, injuring them, feeding them all sorts of things. I cannot stomach them. It has been hectic finding the 35 hour s I need per day to do my job as well as be there for my son. Friends help, but it is a daily challenge.  

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

If you plan to have your children, do it earlier in life. I had my son after becoming a paediatric surgeon. One must understand that every child I see at work has something wrong. This led to a very stressful pregnancy for me, my obstetrician and radiologist. I was always looking for things that could go wrong. 

What motivates you to keep on working in your field?  

I genuinely love what I do. It is not difficult for me to keep going and making lots of sacrifices for the good of the patients. When you truly love something, the choices become very clear. It’s like doing something for a friend, never done grudgingly. The satisfaction of changing a life even if you might be seeing the family for the last time also keeps me at it. I also love thinking on my feet. Many times, we deal with very sick of children with complex problems. 

Finding solutions within a short time or decisions that child has to live with for the rest of their life, keeps it all exciting even when full of trials.  

Do you have a female role model in your field?   

I have female role models in paediatric surgery, although I met these when I had already started paediatric surgical training. The other role models I have who are surgeons in different specialties still influenced me in staying true to my dreams. 

Dr Jane Fualal, who is an endocrine surgeon and has been on executive of COSECSA, and Association of surgeons of Uganda. She drives for excellence while being an only parent to her children. Later I met Dr. Sonia Butterworth (University of British Columbia), Dr. Gill Barker ( Uppsala and Karolinska Universities). They are paediatric surgeons and paediatric urologists respectively and continue to inspire me. 

But of course, most of my mentors are male. It’s just been that way due to opportunities and timing of how we met and them identifying me as someone who could follow a certain path.

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