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Holland Bloorview trains Kenyan doctor

If Dr. Susan Wamithi were to pack everything she’s learned at Holland Bloorview into a suitcase for her trip back to Africa, she’d be charged overweight baggage fees.

Dr. Wamithi completed a two-year fellowship at the hospital this summer and will soon be returning to Kenya. There, she will be one of the few developmental pediatricians in her country, and the very first at Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi.

When she arrived at Holland Bloorview, Dr. Wamithi expected to receive top-quality clinical training…and she wasn’t disappointed.

But it was the training outside clinical care that has helped her become a well-rounded clinician brimming with ideas to help children with disabilities in her native country.

“The staff were incredible in both teaching and helping me understand the Canadian health care system,” said Dr. Wamithi.

“What surprised me was the emphasis on client and family centred care which was something I had not seen before,” she continued. “The priority was to find out what the goals for the client and families were for each clinic visit. It forced me to change how I approach families and how I asked questions.”

Dynamic care for kids with disabilities

There were moments when Dr. Wamithi was amazed by what she saw. She was especially moved when she watched Holland Bloorview spring into action when admitting families who were newcomers to Canada.

She watched multi-disciplinary teams work seamlessly – doctors addressed medical issues, as social workers dealt with social and mental health issues, while occupational therapists arranged for wheelchairs and other equipment.   

“Seeing everyone working together to improve the quality of life for a child who has come to this country…it was emotional for me to see people going out of their way and working so hard for families they don’t even know.”

She was also intrigued by the different programs Holland Bloorview offered, like the respite and summer camps, as well as art and music therapy. Seeing the impact these programs had on children’s and families’ well-being, “was something that struck a chord with me,” she said.

A standard dose of hope for disability

Her time at Holland Bloorview also reinforced the importance of giving parents hope – especially when a new diagnosis is made. 

“You’re trying to make sure that as you’re giving a life-changing diagnosis that the parents don’t stop seeing the child in the same way…that they still see the potential the child has,” she said. “Making sure that a parent doesn’t leave the clinic without hope was something I learned from the start.”

Returning home to a new career

As a result of her time here, it’s Dr. Wamithi who’s filled with hope and excitement about the impact she can make back home. “Everyone had something to teach me and they gave me different ideas about what I can implement in Kenya,” she said.

She’s quick to acknowledge there are a lot of gaps to fill, especially considering there are only a few developmental pediatricians in all of Kenya which has a population of almost 50 million.

Still, her mind is racing with promising ideas. She's started thinking about setting up partnerships between her hospital and community organizations that work with children’s disabilities.

She hopes to break down silos and connect healthcare teams from different fields, enabling multiple disciplines to work in a more cohesive way.   

And she’s interested in mentoring and training young doctors in developmental pediatrics in East Africa in order to help improve access to care for children with disabilities in the region.

"This has been an enriching experience and I’m grateful for the opportunity to train at Holland Bloorview," she said.