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Q&A PAPSEP trainee Dr. Martha Mukonka

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To celebrate the 1-year anniversary of the first Pan-African surgical e-learning platform (PAPSEP). We sat down to chat all things training with Martha Mukonka, the Senior Registrar in the Paediatric Surgery Unit, Department of Surgery at the University Teaching hospital, Lusaka, Zambia.

Martha, who is currently finishing her fellowship in Paediatric Surgery with COSECSA, recently finished her Master of Medicine in paediatric Surgery with the University of Zambia.

Why did you choose to become a paediatric surgeon?

I chose to become a Paediatric Surgeon because I love children. From the time I was young, I had always wanted to work with children and I love surgery so it was natural for me to choose this career path.

I also recognized the need for more Paediatric Surgeons in Zambia, as currently there are only 9 paediatric Surgeons for a population of 18 million of which about 44% are children under 14 years, a number of children do not get the specialized care they deserve because of the long distance to and lack of specialised centres in most parts of the country.

What are the benefits of having a training platform online?

I get to learn from a vast pool of erudite and experienced Paediatric Surgeons. The online platform also enables me a chance to learn despite the busy work schedule as the modules remain open for a week. I have had a chance to learn first-hand through interactive sessions on Zoom from paediatric surgeons from different parts of the world i.e. the UK, East and West Africa.

What modules have you enjoyed the most?

I have really enjoyed most of the modules and I have appreciated the case based modules the most because what was discussed were the common conditions which I see. The interesting part is that they are interactive with questions that are incorporated in the module. The professionalism modules have also really been interesting. The modules that stood out for me were ‘visiting an intensive or neonatal care unit’ and ‘running a busy outpatient clinic’.

After you finish this training programme, what would you like to do next? 

I would love to participate more in the training of other Paediatric Surgeons, I would want to also do mentorship and capacity building of the medical officers in far flung areas for them to be able to recognise the unique paediatric surgical conditions and what they can do for the patients even prior to referral.

I would also want to engage in activities to raise awareness of congenital anomalies in the communities. I have seen adult patients with uncorrected congenital anomalies simply because they did not know they could be corrected or they didn’t have access to specialised healthcare.

What would you say to other surgeons who are undecided about specialising in paediatric surgery?

I would encourage them to consider Paediatric Surgery as it is a wonderful and interesting career. For me, seeing a child smile when they are all better or seeing how happy a mother is when her child’s congenital anomaly is corrected is what makes it all worthwhile to venture into Paediatric Surgery.

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