Amina Buba
Amina Buba is the first female urologic surgeon from Northern Nigeria

Transforming the Identity of the Northern Woman: Honoring Intelligence and Beauty, By Kamal Buba Danladi

By Kamal Buba Danladi

Amina Buba is the first female urologic surgeon from Northern Nigeria, and we got the opportunity to have a quick chat with her after achieving another milestone by being awarded the Mbonu/Anugwu prize as the best candidate in the West African College of Surgeons Urology Fellowship Examinations. This also makes her the third female urologist to be awarded the Urology prize in the college’s nearly 60-year history.

Can you share some insights into your journey to becoming a urology specialist?

Interestingly, my journey into Urology was never planned. In fact, throughout medical school, I never contemplated specialising in Urology. I wanted to become a gynaecologist. I attended conferences and even won a prize for my work in obstetrics and gynaecology as a medical student. However, when I qualified as a doctor and did a rotation in gynaecology, I quickly realised that it was the surgery that attracted me to that specialty. I also didn’t quite enjoy the immense pressure that obstetricians faced (respect to my O&G colleagues).  Long story short, I began my surgical training by writing the Membership examinations of the Royal College of Surgeons, England and then returned home to start my residency at the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, Gwagwalada with the intention of becoming a Breast/Oncoplastic surgeon.

My first rotation as a surgical trainee was in Urology and I fell in love with this specialty. I happened to work in a team where in spite of the challenges of practising in Nigeria, people were giving their best care to patients. I absolutely love the fact that there are so many subspecialties in Urology and that it is a constantly evolving field. I owe a lot of my success to the people that taught and inspired me at the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital which is where I started and completed by surgical training.

What challenges did you encounter during your urology fellowship preparation, and how did you overcome them?

Training to become a fellow is a very lengthy process and requires a lot of tenacity, physical and mental strength as well as God’s guidance. It is also a great lesson in the power of patience and perseverance.  Will power and having an unshakeable faith are what got me through. I always “prayed like I didn’t work hard and worked like I didn’t pray”. And I am so thankful to God for His continuous grace, mercy and guidance.

Throughout my training, I was very fortunate to have had a solid support system which by far superseded the noise of the few people who tried to discourage me. I always give credit to my family, friends and bosses. My parents never questioned my decision to specialise in a male dominated specialty, they instead constantly motivated me.  My mum is a nurse by profession and so she understands medical terminology. Sometimes, I would sit her down and explain what I have studied during my exam preparation. She would ask me questions and challenge me. My mum would surprise me with study desks and chairs when she noticed my posture was changing because of long hours of study. My dad would stay up late to wake me up to study sometimes and my two older sisters are priceless! They were always at the other end of the phone full of encouraging words. I also have a very small but close network of friends on speed dial. I cannot even begin to speak about the immense support I had from certain colleagues and bosses. They are too many to mention names, but I am sure they’ll know that I am talking about them when they read this.

I found it really difficult trying to study for a major examination and still work full time. I would sometimes function on 4 hours of sleep at night. I quickly learnt how to utilise every single minute of the day. I also learnt that the fellowship examination is really a test of cumulative surgical knowledge gained over several years of training. Preparing for the fellowship exams really starts on day 1 of surgical residency. I think I calmed down a bit with “burning the midnight oil” when I recognised this.

How does it feel to be recognized as the Best Candidate in Urology by the West African College of Surgeons?

Very humbling! I feel deeply honoured and I don’t think words can properly capture how it feels to have one’s work recognised like this.

As the third woman to win the Urology prize in the history of the West African College of Surgeons, what message do you have for other aspiring female surgeons?

Do not be blinded by the ‘female surgeon’ title. As my colleagues would say ‘we are all surgeons and there is no woman in surgery’. Your patients depend on you just as they do your male colleagues so do not expect any special treatment because of your gender. Afterall, when you are standing in the operating room, knife in hand, those bleeding blood vessels do not bleed less ‘because the surgeon is a woman’. They do however bleed less in the hands of a skilled surgeon who dissects with care and sticks to the right surgical planes. Surgery is apprenticeship and mastery is key so work hard and by God’s grace, your work will speak for itself. I am still a work in progress myself and I am constantly learning. I believe the only way to achieve prowess is through hard work, there are no shortcuts in surgery.  Strive for excellence and do not accept mediocrity.

What advice would you give to medical students or young professionals interested in pursuing a career in urology?

Believe in yourself. I do not have two heads, if I can do it, so can you. Remember, the greatest disservice you can do to yourself is dishonesty, so be honest with yourself.  And carefully introspect – why do you want to do this? Do you enjoy helping people? Do you have the tenacity?  Can you work under stress and pressure? If yes – then go for it and give it your best. Maintain a good work-life balance whilst at it. Make sure you have a life outside of Surgery, identify good mentors, work hard and pray hard.

How do you plan to continue contributing to the field of urology and surgical education in West Africa?

I plan to take up clinical, teaching and managerial roles in shaa Allah. I would like to see universal health coverage in Nigeria being established in my lifetime. Like I always say, our leaders ought to focus more on healthcare. The knock-on effects of neglecting healthcare systems are numerous. For example, with regards to surgical training, to train appropriately you need patients. Patients are unwell and need to be treated whilst surgeons need to operate. The more surgeries a surgeon performs, the better she/he gets. Where will you get the caseload/volume from if people are too poor to go to hospitals because they cannot afford to pay out of pocket as is seen today in most parts of the country? Let’s not even talk about the detrimental human, personal and economic effects of a lack of universal health coverage.

What role do you see for women in urology in the future, both in West Africa and globally?

Globally, women are doing great things in Urology. One of the global experts in Holmium laser enucleation of the prostate for example is an American female urologist called Amy Krambeck. There are Canadian and Swedish studies published in reputable journals that have found patient outcomes to be better when operated on by female surgeons. As stated by Prof McNally in an article published recently, “Those women who have gone through the extraordinarily complex, difficult hurdles to become surgeons are the best of the best”.

Here in West Africa, we are slowly embracing the fact that women in surgery are here to stay and we can only grow from strength to strength. In the very near future, I see women in Urology become experts in their chosen subspecialties; delivering world class surgical care and taking on teaching, leadership and managerial roles as they change the narrative and inspire generations of surgeons to come. Remember that women are natural multi-taskers!