Karen’s colourful scrubs are just one of the features that stand out when you meet her. Her bright smile, enthusiastic way of speaking and energetic demeanour are others.
All the way from Mombasa, Kenya, Dr Karen Mbaya has specialised in paediatric anaesthetics at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital through the University of Cape Town’s African Paediatric Fellowship Programme (APFP). After hearing about the programme from friends, she googled it and found herself transfixed. With a passion for understanding what makes small babies survive surgical procedures and in ICU, she applied to the APFP and arrived in Cape Town in July 2016.
For her, the experience has been incredibly positive. “The people that I work with at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital are some of the most professional people that I’ve ever met,” she says. “There is just such a sense of warmth and camaraderie. People take their jobs very seriously but there is a closeness like a family.”
Karen felt at home the first day on the job, realising immediately that paediatric anaesthesiology was the right path for her. “I felt like I should have been doing this all my life.”
Not only has she brought a cheerful disposition to the Hospital, but she has also delighted her patients with her array of colourful scrubs.
“My husband bought me a whole range of colourful scrubs when he was in New York,” she explains, “Because the standard scrubs are just too big for me.”
Being apart from her husband has been difficult but it was a sacrifice that they were willing to make so that Karen could bring the specialised skills that she acquired back to their home country.
She returned to Mombasa in July 2017, where she had a job waiting for her in anaeesthesia practise and teaching. She says, “There aren’t many specialists in Kenya, so I will treat both adults and children.”
Having never quite gotten used to the cold Cape Town winter winds, Karen’s warmth will certainly radiate back in Kenya.