There are only 3 physicians for every 100,000 people in Tanzania. Even fewer of those providers are female, with some reports stating that only one-third of physicians in the country are women.
But in one woman’s bold pursuit of a dream for a healthier world, tradition takes a backseat. Medical intern Lillian Alphonce Mbuni isn’t discouraged by the lack of female representation in her field: “Women make great physicians,” she says. “Women understand things differently than men. And they bring a different perspective that makes them great caregivers and health care providers.”
Last year, Lillian spent her vacation volunteering at the Obstetrics and Gynecology clinic at Sengerema District Hospital alongside Global Health Service Partnership (GHSP) Physician Educator Dr. Siobhan McCarty-Singleton. Together, they provided no-cost care to women who visited the clinic . “I learned so much from her,” says Lillian, “and our three months working together really inspired me.”
As Lillian explains, tradition and custom surrounding gender roles in Tanzania discourage women from entering careers as health workers. Instead, women are typically encouraged to work in the home and raise a family. Says Lillian, “Even if a woman completes some schooling, these traditions interfere with her chance to go for further studies.”
Despite these barriers, Lillian pursued her dream of becoming a doctor – a dream she has had since she was a young girl. Living near a hospital as a child, she saw the important difference doctors were making in her community, remarking that she “wanted to serve people who were suffering. I knew that doctors were smart – using their knowledge to save lives. I wanted to do the same.”
She is currently completely a rotation in Internal Medicine at Muhimbili National Hospital but has dreams of becoming an Emergency Medicine doctor, a field in which even fewer physicians in Tanzania choose to specialize, because it’s where Lillian feels she can make the most impact. “Immediately, someone’s life is in your hands. And you have to think and act quickly,” she explains. “By using my skills and knowledge, I could save someone’s life on the spot.”
Lillian’s dedication to medicine doesn’t stop there. She hopes that she can train and inspire future female physicians the same way Dr. McCarty inspired her. “I hope that someday I can encourage more young girls to study science and pursue medicine. It takes a true commitment to become a physician but I want to girls to know that anyone can be a doctor”