“Growing up poor made me a better doctor” – Dr Magare Magara
Poverty was a blemish that followed Dr Magare Magara everywhere he went as a child. He was mocked for it by his peers at school and neighbours at home. Being the sixteenth child in a polygamous family also meant that whatever little resources his parents could lay their hands on, he would in many cases be last in line when it came to sharing. Even when it came to education.
Today, Magare is already a very busy doctor running two Equity Afia clinics in Nakuru and Kisii, serving the public at Nyahururu County Hospital and Occasionally working at Nakuru’s Aga Khan hospital.
I caught up with him last week, and we talked about his childhood, repeating form four despite scoring A- and his life as the Medical Officer in Charge of two Equity Afia clinics.
Tell me about your life growing up as a child in rural Kisii.
I am the last born in a polygamous family. I am the 16th Child of my father, but 7th of my mother. I was born preterm at 32 weeks and raised in a local incubator, just next to the fire-place under the care of a traditional birth attendant called Milkah. How I survived that was by God’s grace.
We grew under difficult conditions, but there was always enough foo; Kisii being very productive and my mother together with my siblings providing the workforce. My father’s meagre salary as a primary school teacher would not sustain the large family to get a modest living. Clothing was never a consideration when growing up. We only had school uniforms which we would put on 24/7. This meant that our uniforms were always torn at the back. As a family we were despised, a factor that really affected my self-esteem till after I joined university. The sad bit was that even our fellow brothers and sisters in poverty could mock us and make fun of our situation. The only shoe I knew was ‘sandak’- a form of plastic shoe which would really get hot and roast our feet under the sun.
Did you always want to be a doctor as a child?
I had never thought of becoming a doctor, I wanted to be an electronic and communication engineer.
At what point did that change to medicine?
I have always known what I wanted in life. However, choosing a career was one of the most challenging decisions I ever made. After doing my KCSE and scoring an A- (78 points) I got an admission to Masinde Muliro University Of Science and Technology (MMUST) to pursue electrical and communications engineering.
I was happy because that was my second option after aeronautical Engineering and my brother had just graduated from the same university with BSc. Computer science. However, things took another turn after having a chat with my other brother who is a doctor and had graduated from the University of Nairobi. He had just completed his internship. I was curious to understand more about life in medical school. He took me on a tour to Chiromo anatomy laboratory where he showed me the cadavers, which he told me they would dissect and use to understand the human body. It is at this point that I decided that I wanted to become a doctor.
The was one problem though. I had not passed my KCSE well enough to get admission to medical school as a regular student. There was also no way I would afford to study medicine under the self-sponsorship program owing to our humble background.
I had to make a tough decision. I went back to form 4 with only one aim, to fill up the remaining 6 points and score an A plain of 84 points. That way I would be assured of joining The University of Nairobi and pursuing medicine. I did exactly that and scored my 84 points a year later, and my journey to becoming a doctor began.
How was life for you in medical school, did you at some point contemplate quitting or changing courses?
Having been raised in poverty, I knew nothing comes easy. It was a tough life but it had to be done. Initially, I was discouraged because I was used to scoring 90% and above in high school but coming to medical school, everyone struggling to score just 50% which was the cut-off marks to proceed to the next level.
Sleepless nights of solo reading and group discussions characterized our stay at the university, especially in pre-medical school (year 1 and 2). Some days we would envy our colleagues studying engineering and humanities because they got to enjoy campus life while we typically lived in the library.
However, as we went up into the senior medical school, things become easier as we became stronger and adaptive. At this point, I had to look for something to toughen my life. I joined campus politics and became a congressman (In charge of a hostel) and later became the campus Representative for the Medical School campus in the SONU executive.
You are an alumnus of the Equity Leadership Programme, how did you end up in the programme to start with?
The programme targets the top KCSE candidates (best boy and best girl) from each sub-county in which the bank has a branch; and the best candidate in each subject nationally. I did my KCSE at Kanga School which is Migori county. I was the best in the county but unfortunately, Equity Bank by then did not have a branch in the sub-county. However, I was the best student in Biology nationally, and that’s how I joined the programme.
How did being part of the leadership program shape your career path?
Initially, everything was revolving around myself. It was about what I could gain. It was about me being the best. But joining the program has taught me that we get more satisfaction by serving others. By making others happy. By humbling ourselves. Unlike in the past, now I would reschedule an activity to just go and participate in a communal service.
It has strengthened my resolve to continue pursuing health programs that benefit people and society in general. Working towards equality in society. It has also helped me in managing my time well. That is how I am able to work at the public hospital in Nyahururu and also see patients at Equity Afia in Nakuru and Kisii or other private facilities I work in without discriminating on my patients based on their economic status.
Other than medical school and the leadership program, you also hold academic credentials from the University of Washington and the University of Illinois, how have you been able to juggle all that?
We have 24 hours in a day. It’s up to an individual to see how many hours they can put into use. There are those who will restrict themselves to 8hours and ignore 16 hours. Provided I get the 3 am to 7 am sleep, I am good to go. This is the best time for me to sleep and reflect. The rest is sufficient for my other activities. Also, when in public I have learnt to be in good moods as this prepares me for the next activity withot getting fatigued.
You have worked in both the private and public health sector, now you are running your second Equity Afia clinic. What do you find unique about Equity Afia’s approach to the provision of healthcare?
The Equity Afia Model is a masterpiece. It rekindles hope and provides what we can call high end services at a very affordable cost. Its focus on quality, affordable and accessible healthcare stands out and complements other key players in the sector especially the government.
At 30 years you have already accomplished quite a lot and the future looks even brighter for you, what are some of the lessons that you have gained along the way?
I am just trying my best but I have learnt the power of patience, discipline and collaborations. The future will depend on the networks we create in our day-to-day activities. I have also learnt to treat everyone equally regardless of how society perceives them.
If you were not a doctor today, what else would you be doing with your life?
I would have ended up working in the electronic or communications engineering field as a programmer. There is however a part of me that also toyed with the idea of becoming a catholic priest.
Do you get to have free time, how do you spend it?
My free time is divided between service to community, family and personal hobbies. Like in this era of Covid-19 I do a lot of sensitization to the public about the disease. I also enjoy spending with my wife and our four-year-old son who I named after the former president of Ghanat and also after my dad, Jerry Rawlings Magare Magara.
This is the time I also read medical journals or call my patients and get to know how they are doing. I like interacting with people so you may at times find me at the local joints playing pool table.
If I am just home, you will find me watching Flaqo’s comedy videos and laughing my head off. That stuff never gets old.