Dr Wangari Waweru-Siika, Clinical Associate Professor at AKU Medical College, East Africa
The eldest daughter of parents who attended Makerere University in the late ‘60s, Dr Wangari Waweru-Siika grew up in a home in which academic excellence was encouraged and rewarded. Born in 1972 in Nyeri County, her family moved to Nairobi County when she was only two years old.
“My late mother, Mrs Cecilia Waweru, was renowned in education circles for her outstanding leadership, paying keen attention to her own children’s academic progression. The one thing I was grateful for was that she never made us wake up early or sleep late to read, a relief given how much I love my sleep!”
Dr Wangari attended Our Lady of Mercy Primary School in Nairobi’s South B from 1978 to 1985. As a top student throughout her time in primary school, she was chosen to captain the school debate club during her senior years, leading to victories at the regional level of the competition.
As the first group of students to sit the Kenya Certificate of Primary Examinations (KCPE) in the country in 1985, the school principal informed them that the Nation Media Group will be offering scholarships to the best boy and girl in each province to mark this achievement.
“I recall thinking how that award would most certainly go to someone from some elite schools such as Nairobi Primary School, and not anyone from a City Council school such as ours. To my immense surprise, I emerged as the best girl nationally in that year’s KCPE examinations and third overall nationally.”
With that achievement, Dr Wangari was admitted to the Kenya High School, one of the prestigious national schools in the country, supported by the sponsorship from the Nation Media Group through the Aga Khan Development Network.
For a simple girl whose favourite pastime was playing a childhood game famously known in Kenya as ‘kati’’ daring to dream opened more doors in her life than she ever imagined possible.
“As I took my place amongst my peers in this national school, the experience taught me never to limit myself in what I thought I was capable to achieve and not to allow myself to be afraid and to always aim for the highest.”
Unlike many young people who do well in school, Dr Wangari never had any ambitions to be a doctor. As a child, she loved cats and thought she would be a veterinarian. At one point, she considered engineering due to her love for Physics and Mathematics.
“I eventually chose to study medicine through a process of elimination of other career options. I’m nevertheless convinced that I was always meant to be a doctor as I truly enjoy taking care of my patients.”
Eventually, Dr Wangari settled on medicine and did her undergraduate degree at the University of Nairobi and later went to the Imperial School of Anaesthesia in the United Kingdom for her specialty training.
“When I left Kenya for the UK in 2006, I had already completed my Master of Medicine degree in Anaesthesia and attained specialist recognition from the Medical Board. Unfortunately, my Kenyan postgraduate training was not recognized in the UK, and I had to start all over again, working my way up.”
In addition to her master’s degree, Dr Wangari has a fellowship training in Paediatric Intensive Care from the UK, the European Diploma in Intensive Care (EDIC) and the Fellowship of the Royal College of Anaesthetists (FRCA) in the UK.
In July 2020, Dr Wangari was promoted to the rank of Clinical Associate Professor at AKU Medical College, East Africa. Previously, she served as the Critical Care Director, a position she held from April 2016 until December 2017. In 2018, Dr Wangari was accepted to join the University of Oxford to pursue Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil).
“Being accepted to join the University of Oxford has been the highest point of my career. I am currently in my third year of study. The matriculation ceremony, during which one’s name is added to the Oxford’s roll of students going back hundreds of years, is a memory I will always treasure.”
Recently, Dr Wangari was invited to join the World Health Organisation (WHO) Respiratory Studies Working Group as a member. The group brings together researchers from around the world to work on research that will inform the management of patients with COVID-19 pneumonia in low and middle-income countries.
“I was invited to join this group through a clinician researcher from Harvard University with whom I had interacted previously and who was familiar with my work. The group meets virtually every week, and we hope to be able to begin recruiting sites for our proposed studies.”
She says success to her means being able to get others to share in her vision and passion. In this way, any processes you implement will remain long after you’re gone.
On her future plans, Dr Wangari says; “I would like to see the last of my three children through university and then take a well-earned trip around the world!”