You cannot separate passion from pathology any more than you can separate a person’s spirit from his body. ? Richard Selzer, Letters to a Young Doctor
Thursday afternoon I had a great opportunity to meet up with Dr. Johansen Oduor, a man many will come across both in their life and after life. Dr.Oduor MBchB, Path (UON), is the Chief Pathologist at the Office of the Forensic and Medicolegal in Nairobi, Kenya.
His extensive educational background consists of an MBchB Path from University of Nairobi and a Diploma for Medic form CMCA. Although he has worked as a hospital surgeon in the past, he now spends much of his day performing autopsies for the nation. Currently undertaking the modular program Lehho at SBS we had a sneak preview into his life and work as Kenyas Chief Pathologist.
Give us a brief introduction of yourself.
My name is Johansen Oduor, Currently the chief pathologist in Kenya
What is pathology and who is a pathologist?
Pathology is a branch of medical science primarily concerning the examination of organs, tissues, and bodily fluids in order to make a diagnosis of disease.
I deal in Forensic pathology which is a branch of pathology concerned with determining the cause of death by examination of a cadaver. The autopsy is performed by the pathologist at the request of a coroner usually during the investigation of criminal law cases and civil law cases in some. The other branches consist of pathologists who examine the blood and deal with DNA.
What is your current position and what kind of training did it require?
I am the chief pathologist for the Kenyan Government.
For one to hold the title, you must pass through medical school first. I studied at the University of Nairobi for four years as a surgeon. Later on specializing in my field of choice, Initially, I had not foreseen myself as a pathologist but as I continued through med school, I discovered that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
In order to become the best, I pursued other medical related courses in pathology. I did a diploma in recognizing the identity of decomposed bodies and other courses in South Africa. Such courses are not offered locally it is unfortunate that one must fly abroad to get these qualifications but, supplementing your basic degree is important in order to qualify as a pathologist.
As Kenyas Chief pathologist, what is your typical day like? What type of issues do you encounter?
My working hours are normal like any other job (8-5). On average, I am up by 5 am; enjoy some reading until 7 am before heading to work at the City Mortuary. The activities during the day may vary. Sometimes I may conduct post mortems up to certain times of the day or alternatively go for a meeting at The Ministry of Health Offices in cases where we have the passing of an important government official. Other times I lecturer at the University of Nairobi on my area of specialization. My weekends are usually set aside in order for me to spend some time with my family. I make sure I balance my work and family life.
Rare occasions do occur where certain autopsies I work on turn into criminal cases then, I have to record a statement and attend court sessions for testimonies.
Your view on the bill expected to be passed in Parliament to coordinate forensic departments in the country to ensure crimes are well investigated so that court cases are not wrongly determined due to lack of proper evidence, since many court cases are thrown out or wrongly concluded due to lack of evidence.
I am in full support of this bill. First, the police need to be properly trained in the recognizing of dead persons. Cases have been reported of people waking up in mortuaries. These occurrences can be prevented if the necessary coordination is done among the forensic departments and the police force. Secondly with this bill also comes the proposition of new and improved facilities like in the advanced countries. I believe that Kenya can attain that level if we wanted to. Therefore, I welcome this bill whole heartedly and would like to see it being taken seriously.
What do you think are the common misconceptions about the career and what is the reality?
Well, the first one would be that pathology only deals with dead bodies and as I explained above, pathology is a very wide field. People also believe that pathologists are normally paid off in order to conceal information in major cases for example the cause of death prominent people e.g. Ministers. This is not true for family of the deceased are normally encouraged to bring along their private doctors if they wish, to witness and verify the process making is as transparent as possible. Another misconception is that post mortems are normally conducted day and night, in the mortuary. This is not the case as I have explained, my normal day starts at 8 am and ends at 5 pm in the evening.
What personality traits do you think would help someone succeed as a forensic pathologist?
Passion is key in order to succeed in any job. Second, as is the norm with all medical officers or doctors, confidentiality is mandatory. Information about a patient should not be shared out to other people as one pleases. Pathology requires someone who is very keen with their job. I remember, one time I was called in to examine the body of a person who had been involved in a road accident. As I was carrying out my examination, I noticed that the patient had a gunshot wound to the head but due to the severe damage during the accident one would have easily missed out on such crucial information. This new discovery made me immediately alert the police who then made the incident a criminal case. If I wasnt keen, I would have dismissed it as an accident case yet there was more to it.
What do you see is the future of forensic pathology in Kenya in relation to West-gate and sourcing for outside help?
Forensic pathology is gradually picking up well in Kenya and outsourcing is just a way of getting to learn and gain new experiences from other people in your area of expertise. In the Westgate incident we outsourced for help because these were nationals from other countries that were involved in the unfortunate incident.
But the future for this field in our country is very bright, especially through the introduction of the new bill in parliament.
Why did you decide to enroll for LEHHO?
I heard about this program through others who have passed through it and the recommendations were just perfect. I am also looking for quality and I feel that SBS really gives me value for my money. Lehho would do my career a lot of good that is why I decided to pursue it.
Aside from increasing my knowledge about the medicine world, I feel that the program will help me in managing my career as well as my everyday life.
What has been your experience so far in the class?
The experience has been great. I have met lecturers who taught me in University and other practitioners in the medical world who we have worked together. The lectures are very informative, knowledgeable and concerned, not to mention the facilities that SBS offers. I am quite satisfied and would highly recommend this course for anyone who is interested .They will not be disappointed.
Dr. Johansen is also a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi under Forensic Sciences.