Meet Uganda’s first female neurosurgeon: Dr. Nalwanga Juliet Sekabunga

Wikipedia defines neurosurgery, or neurological surgery, as the medical specialty concerned with the prevention, diagnosis, surgical treatment, and rehabilitation of disorders which affect any portion of the nervous system including the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerves, and extra-cranial cerebrovascular system. Just like the definition suggests, studying neurosurgery must be complex! However, Dr. Nalwanga Juliet Sekabunga has done it, going against all these odds.

Dr. Sekabunga grew up in Uganda, daughter of Professor Sekabunga, a well-known pediatric surgeon. Despite having a surgeon for a father, her beginnings were humble, and her path to neurosurgery complicated.

The youngest out of ten siblings, Dr. Sekabunga never knew she’d ever meet some of them. She grew up with her mother and went on to live an ordinary life but later would go to a good Catholic school and had hopes of becoming a banker. Fate had something else to offer.

Dr. Sekabunga has since become one of the Uganda’s ten neurosurgeons having done internships at Lira Regional Referral Hospital (Lira, Uganda) and Mulago National Referral Hospital before doing further training in general surgery at Mbarara University of Science and Technology (Mbarara, Uganda) and a neurosurgery residency at Mulago National Referral Hospital.

She becomes Uganda’s first female neurosurgeon having studied under the Michael Haglund – neurosurgery residency programme at Mulago Hospital. Earlier, Dr. Sekabunga had graduated from Mbarara’s residency, becoming the first Ugandan woman to do so. Her achievement as a general surgeon was not enough as she had her eyes set on becoming a specialist doctor in neurosurgery.

Soft spoken, young and ambitious, Dr. Sekabunga is best described by a close colleague who says

“When Dr. Sekabunga graduated from Mbarara’s residency, she was the first woman to do so. She taught many women medical students, who “always thought surgery was a field just for men.” She was used to shocking people. “When you’re the first, you’re the first at everything”

Theresa Williamson, MD, a Duke neurosurgery resident and a 2018 Doximity Scholar.

Dr. Sebunga is following her dream to teach and operate in Uganda, and her son, now age 8, wants to be something different every day.