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Mary Andhoga: From Being Belittled To Becoming The First Ever Female Surgeon In Kenya

Dr. Mary Andhoga is a woman who has overcome various life storms to build an impressive career in medicine. She  currently practices palliative care at Hospice Wanganui in New Zealand. This specialty is centred on symptom and pain management, mainly in terminally ill patients.

But in the late 70s, Andhoga had to fight off gender stereotypes that discouraged women from being surgeons. So dire was the situation that she had to write a letter to the dean of the University of Nairobi School of Medicine before being enrolled as a student.

After this, she had to face a panel of lecturers. She recalls that she prepared for the interview hoping to be done in the morning, instead this happened at 5 p.m. Everything looked odd: she was the only female applicant, her former lecturers pretended not to know her and then she was asked a question that was quite belittling.

In surgery, the saying goes; knife before husband, so in your case, what is it going to be?”  she told the Standard.

The question meant that women were supposed to prioritize their marriage and so would be more concerned about cooking for their husbands rather than their professional development.

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After being matriculated in a class of more than 50, in which she was the only woman, Andhoga was the centre of attention but remained focused on the final prize. In the late 80s, she graduated with a Bachelor’s of Surgery, becoming the pioneer Kenyan woman to achieve such a fete.

However, the medic relocated to United Kingdom in a move to escape a troubled marriage as her husband was battling a drinking problem. While in UK, she experienced serious culture shock ranging from seasonal weather changes, racism and different lifestyle.

Mary Andhoga. [Photo|LinkedIn|Mary Andhoga]

Andhoga specialized in plastic and reconstructive surgery. She then invited her children and ended up staying with them. Andhoga eschewed coming back to Kenya because she felt a loose connection with her motherland after losing both her parents and siblings. The medic then settled in New Zealand in 2016 to practise palliative medicine.

“For a while, I didn’t know who my people were, and I didn’t know who was my go-to person and so when I joined palliative medicine, everybody could not understand why and some even thought I was dealing with my grief,” she said as captured by the Standard.

The alumnus of both Ng’iya Girls and Alliance High School settled in New Zealand in 2016. A friend introduced her to palliative care and she ended up taking a job at a hospice. According to Andhoga, there is a connection between palliative care and plastic surgery as both have an element of psychological care.

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