Dr Elizabeth Chibesakunda : Medical Doctor in Lusaka, Zambia

Written by
Lauryn Mwale
Last Updated
Oct 12, 2022 12:34
Name : Dr Elizabeth Chibesakunda
Job : Medical Doctor (General Practitioner) and Deaconess
Company: A Level One Government Hospital 
Location: Lusaka, Zambia
Education: Bachelors in Human Biology & MBChB (Bachelors in Medicine and Surgery)

How would you describe your job to a 5 year old?

This is a job in which I help people to be healthy, get better and live their lives well. When I was younger, one of the major things I knew about doctors was that they helped and healed people. Even when you look at Doc McStuffins on tv, she is helping and healing those little animals. 

What’s your speciality?

I'm a general practitioner right now, but I intend to move into paediatrics later on. 

Why did you decide to become a doctor?

I think it's something that I've always wanted to do from the time that I was young. I've always been inspired by people who use their time to help others. I remember when I was young, I would rescue small lizards. I dunno if that's called rescuing because I would catch them and then hold them so tight in my hands because I'd be so scared. They'd end up dying and then I'd bury them and put flowers and everything. <laugh>

I've really always been passionate about helping other people. My mom told me that when I was younger, I brought a friend home and told my parents that she was not going to go home because we were adopting her because her parents would fight. They said, “No, she has to go home because she doesn't belong here. She needs to be with her parents and they'll start looking for her and they'll get concerned.” I told them, “She's only going home on the condition that you go with her and talk to her parents so that they stop fighting.” I forgot the story but my Mum reminded me about it recently. I have literally always loved being a solution. Because at the end of the day, like I say, people need people. And being a doctor means you are there for so many people, especially in Africa. Consider the doctor-patient ratio in Zambia alone, it's quite high. It's literally one doctor to 12,000 patients. And that's crazy. I have great satisfaction in knowing that I'm there for somebody. I am a solution for someone. When people come to you as a medical doctor, they come to seek answers. Somebody has a problem, they don't know how to deal with it. So they're coming to you. They expect you to have answers and to give them hope. 

Can you describe a typical day of work?

Right now I'm working in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. When I reach work, we have morning briefings and presentations before we start seeing patients. This fills up the bulk of my day. Maybe I get an hour break for lunch or a rest but this depends on the number of patients. Sometimes you have to be in the theatre for cesarean sections. I don’t have boring days or weeks. It’s always very different.

What is your workplace like?

There are a few other junior residents like myself, about 11 and 5 or so senior residents. People are really friendly. The nurses are really nice. I actually get along with people quite well. I'm quite extroverted and I don't want anybody to feel as if they don’t belong somewhere. I want them to feel that they are actually part of a team. So I'm very interactive and I make an effort to chat to everyone. 

What is the most interesting or exciting part of what you do?

The most interesting part is the satisfaction of knowing that I impact others. Through my work, their life was preserved. And it’s also exciting to explore medical mysteries and surprises. For example, last week, a woman came in with worms and my scientific mind was very intrigued. Figuring stuff out and providing a helpful solution. It’s great!

What challenges have you faced and how have you been able to overcome them?

Initially, it was trying to fit into the system. When you go to a workplace, you may not find people who think the same as you. I’m a really confident person and sometimes being a woman and being confident the way that I am threatens other people. But that’s fine by me. You won't step on me or look down on me. I will voice my opinions. I will call you out if you're wrong. So I guess that's one of the things that comes off as a challenge because sometimes it's really hard to not express myself because if something needs to be addressed, I'd rather address it than sit down and cower in a corner. I'm not like that. And if you tell me no or say that I should just let things be the way they are, I don’t like it <laugh>....  I'm not going to sit down and allow that to be the only good reason stopping us from doing things differently. Medicine is male-dominated and that’s a challenge but I’m doing my best to stand up for myself and others. 

Is there any way that experience has differed from your expectations?

When I was training to be a doctor, I didn’t think it would require a lot of hands-on work. I just assumed that. But then when you're working, when you're actually in the hospital, you find that you barely have time to sit down. You barely have time to yourself. And even during the course of the week, you rarely have time to actually just rest fully. You have to deliberately create time for yourself to actually rest because it's really important for your mental health to reboot and reset. This is a 24/7 job. I can’t be passive about this. I take my patients personally. I have to be serious about everything that I'm doing because lives are at risk. 

What are the necessary strengths and skills needed to succeed as a doctor?

You have to be open minded. People enter the medical field thinking it's extremely hard. And I beg to differ. In my seven years of study, I never got to repeat a course. I never got to sit for supplementary exam. Every exam that came by, I managed to clear it. And I'm not saying it's easy. It will be strenuous. It can be challenging but accept the challenge. People have succeeded before you. Why not you? Commit. Push yourself. Don’t allow yourself to be intimidated. Learn from the people who know more so that you can get better. 

You have to excel in your sciences and math. I actually really enjoy math because I think it's one of the things that once you grasp the concept, it's actually easy. My best subjects were always math and physics. And even then, sometimes I didn't get very good grades, but I didn't allow those moments of discouragement to stop me from pushing. There will be moments where things get a little hard and you have to lift yourself up and continue ahead.

Do you have any advice?

One of the things that I'm grateful for is that I was privileged to have friends who were like minded, people who were always positive around me. People who would push me, who were goal oriented. It can be like positive peer pressure. I am the kind of person who maintains a small circle and they have made me better. Don't be a loner. It's not necessary. Like I said, people need people. You need other people around you. Nobody is self made. No one. So it's very important to ensure that you're surrounded by people who help you, people who encourage you. And friends are really important because when you're in school, you're not surrounded by your parents. You're not surrounded by your siblings, you're with friends, people that your parents may not even know, people that are new to you. So you have to choose your friends wisely. Friendship is not something that happens randomly.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?

Someone told me that a specialist is somebody who knows so much about so little. For example, when you're in a biology class, you're being taught by somebody who's probably a master in biology and they expect you to think like a biologist. But then when you understand that you are learning and that you may not get it right immediately, you can be kinder with yourself. At the end of the day, the person you’re working with is somebody who's a specialist in their particular field. They know almost everything that they can know about that particular field. As a student, you are learning so many things at once. Don't expect yourself to know as much as they do and cut yourself some slack. Your job is to learn. I want to be a Pediatricians one day but right now I’m a general practitioner.  I only know so much about pediatrics. So when I make a mistake or get stuck, I'm allowed to consult. I'm allowed to learn. 

What would you do differently if you could start over?

I would focus on reading more. I would spend so much time on one single topic, writing down notes and just reading everything. At the end of the day, repetition is a mother of all learning. And I think I should have understood myself better, understood what worked for me. I would end up spending so much time on one small thing and I would end up neglecting the bigger things because I wanted to master that one particular thing.

I’m the worst critic I've ever encountered. I would criticize myself a lot when I made a mistake. I would literally beat myself up about the simplest of things. And it never really helped me. But that also got me here so it’s both a strength and a weakness. No matter how wise one is, mistakes will be made and it's important to understand that each one of them is a platform for you to learn and for you to rise so that you don't repeat the same mistake. Yeah. But I would definitely be less hard on myself.



Lauryn is the founder of Project Ignite Her.

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