Q&A with Dr Francoise Mukagaju
Francoise is nearing completion of the first Operation Smile plastic surgery training programme which will make her the first female plastic surgeon in her country. We find out about what inspired her to become a plastic surgeon and her hopes to improve access to safe surgery for her fellow Rwandans.
Q. Why did you choose plastic surgery as a discipline?
A. “My dream was always to become a plastic surgeon, but in my country there was no training programme to support this. So, I decided to train in general surgery while waiting for an opportuning to do plastic surgery.
While I was doing training in general surgery, during my second year, I met Dr. Charles Furuha who was the first Rwandan plastic surgeon, and I worked with him for three months. I liked the way that what he was doing was showing the outcome. The result is immediate – someone comes with a problem and he repairs it, and you see that there is an immediate change. So I liked the way that you can change things and you can see what you’ve done. That’s why I chose plastic surgery.”
Q. What are you most proud of?
A. “I’m proud of having joined the plastic surgery training programme. I’m so glad that I’ve done the programme and am towards the end of the programme now.”
Q. Do you consider yourself a role model for girls in Rwanda who are dreaming of becoming a surgeon or plastic surgeon like you?
A. “I wish I could be an inspiration to more women. There are not many in surgery in my country – compared to our male colleagues we are still few in numbers and I wish that I become an inspiration to other women so that more and more of them become plastic surgeons and general surgeons.”
Q. What barriers do you think women in Rwanda face when they think about a career in medicine?
A. “So the first barrier is the mindset. We’ve been used to the fact that surgery is for men and it requires a lot of work, a lot of time. You have to be in the hospital most of the time, you have to be waking up in the night and go to the hospital, and this is considered to be a job of men. Maybe men have more time because women also have to deal with the children. Women have to deal with work at home, and sometimes we think that men have more time to do that than women.
But, when you do what you like, you always find time to do it! If we could change the mindset, that’s the first barrier. It’s doable, I’m a woman, I have a family, I have kids, I have a husband, but I can still manage to do what I love as surgery and still have time for them.”
Q. What are your aspirations for the future?
A. “So I am thinking of first doing my exams and qualifying as a plastic surgeon. Then I plan to go back to my hospital and serve my people, serve Rwandans.
There is really a lot of need. There are a lot of cases pending to be done. People don’t access plastic surgery easily, so I think I first, be there and work, and maybe think of further training later.”
Q. What are your hopes for Rwanda?
A. “My hope for Rwanda in terms of surgery is to see every Rwandan have access to surgery and have affordable access to surgery. People have to travel miles and miles to meet a plastic surgeon. You see something that can be fixed in an hour and someone spends two years, three years waiting for that. So I wish that every Rwandan could have an easy access and safe access to surgery.”
Q. How has Operation Smile supported you during your training?
A. “Operation Smile contributed a lot to make our dream come true. We couldn’t just go there and train without the equipment, without the trainers – we only had two plastic surgeons. They wouldn’t be enough to teach us everything – they taught us a lot – but we also needed to have further exposure from other surgeons from elsewhere and Operation Smile has been there for us, for the equipment, and financial help to make our training successful.”
I would like to say thank you. Thank you to my trainers who thought about training and accepted us onto the programme, and a big thank you to Operation Smile.Dr Françoise Mukagaju, Resident surgeon, Operation Smile Ghana
Lives touched in Rwanda
For over a decade Operation Smile Rwanda has provided cleft care for thousands of patients.