By Kimani Kuria
Kenya has a total of 37 neurosurgeons and out of this number only four are women. Dr. Beverly Cheserem, who doubles as an assistant professor at Aga Khan University, is among the four female neurosurgeons in the country. Her subspecialty is in skull base surgery and pituitary.
Here is her career journey as told by WoK.
Background and Early Life
She was born in Nairobi and before travelling to the United States, her family had lived in Nakuru and Kisumu. Dr. Beverly Cheserem parents were a curious pair and would share this quality with their daughter Beverly who grew up questioning right about everything. Her late father was a civil engineer at the National Irrigation Board in irrigation systems while her mother, who had a profound impact on Dr. Beverly, is a gynaecologist and a lecturer at the University of Nairobi.
She attended Our Lady of Mercy Primary located in South B after which she joined Precious Blood Riruta. Dr. Jebet was promised a scholarship if she successfully completed her A Levels which she did. This came to pass as she joined the University of Southampton to study Medicine. This was followed by a Neurosurgery master’s degree attained from England’s Royal College of Surgeons graduating in 2015.
Career Journey Abroad
In 2008, Dr. Beverly was employed at the University Hospital Wales as a surgical trainee in Neurosurgery, Cardiothoracics, and Liver Surgery. She held the position for one year and transitioned to London Deanery in Brighton, United Kingdom as a neurosurgical trainee. This was a long-term post that she held for eight years. Afterward, she moved to Cardiff as a Locum Consultant Neurosurgeon for five months at Brighton and Sussex University Hospital. In August 2017, Dr. Beverly went back to the University Hospital Wales as a Skullbase fellow holding the position for two years. Moreover, she has completed numerous rotations and travelled as a fellow at Italy’s Bellaria Hospital, France’s Lariboisiere Hospital, and UPMC in the States.
Back to Africa
October 2019 saw her travel to Tanzania to join the Weill Cornell- Muhimbili Orthopaedic Institute as a Global Neurosurgery Fellow for one year. She was to join Aga Khan University Hospital, East Africa as a Consultant Neurosurgeon from September 2020 to date. Two months later, she got the role of assistant professor at the institution. Dr. Beverly is excited by her career which she describes as ever evolving given the intense research being done consistently. She says she is drawn to the “tightrope between success and failure.”
Local and International Positions she holds
Chair of the Kenya Association of Women Surgeons from 2021 to 2023
Vice-Chair of the Surgical Society of Kenya’s Scientific Committee from 2021 to 2023
Vice-Chair of the Surgical Society of Kenya’s Global Surgery Committee from 2021 to 2023
She is also a member of the United Kingdom’s Association of Medical Educators, the Society of British Neurosurgeons, British Association of Surgical Oncology, the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, the Kenya Medical Association, and a fellow of England’s Royal College of Surgeons.
A Curious Mind
Dr. Beverly Cheserem is a curious mind and feeds her inquisitiveness by reading and researching online. She humorously says, “Having two parents who were in the science field, I was a bit of a geeky child. I didn’t even know what fingers were called, I used to call them phalanges because I used to read my mother’s books. I also read a lot of geology and physics. I settled on medicine because I was fascinated by human biology.” She also said in an interview on Businessdaily (BD) that she is a people-watcher and believes that no two people are the same.
On Matters Religion
Dr. Cheserem says that she was raised in the AIC Church but with travelling, her world was turned upside down. Today, she is less of a religious person but deeply spiritual. In the interview with BD, she said, “When I left to go to university, I was a devout Christian. I knew all the answers, I was very clear about life. Now I think I live in the greys. I am a spiritual person.“ Interestingly, life as a neurosurgeon puts one to either deeply believe in God or go the atheist or agnostic route, as one experiences first-hand the fragility and impermanence of life.
A procedure called cardiothoracic highlights this as Dr. Beverly described, “Indeed medicine has its ritual. I did some cardiothoracic when I was a junior where you stop someone’s heart and then later on you restart it. And then you’re asked, was the person alive or dead while you were doing this surgery? Because you can stop and start their hearts. Are you god? Who is the giver of life here? I think if you deal with things to do with mortality you end up standing outside society.”
A Philosophical Life Approach
She is a single lady who keeps a dog. She says life becomes much easier with a pet, something she has always wanted to do. Apart from leading a successful career as a neurosurgeon, Dr. Beverly is a thought-driven individual who can almost be described as philosophical. In a breakfast interview, she talked about the concepts of permanence of change, identity, personal definition of success, and language. She urges that people should embrace a less dogmatic and fixated self identity and explore more about themselves.
In the July-August social media campaign tagged #BlackInNeuroWeek that aims to highlight the successes of black professionals in the Neurosciences, Dr. Beverly Cheserem was spotlighted given her great achievements in the field.