A first of many: Somalia’s first female pathologist

Dr Sagal Salad carries herself with grace and humility. Do not be fooled by her demeanor, she carries a huge crown – Somalia’s first female pathologist. Dr. Salad graduated with a Master of Medicine degree in anatomical pathology from AKU. We caught up with her at the February convocation in Nairobi to know more about her story. ​

Why did you decide to pursue medicine as a career?
I developed an interest in health issues when I was in middle school and the interest grew until I completed high school. I then pursued an undergraduate degree in medicine and surgery at a Chinese University.

Why did you decide to join AKU to pursue your postgraduate degree?
I wanted hands-on clinical experience and mentorship that was relevant to the African context. I was introduced to AKU by a Somali surgical consultant who was working in Nairobi. He told me that I would get everything I needed to advance my career and specialty in pathology at the Aga Khan University. I applied and was pleased to be among the few who got selected.

And in pathology because…
We don’t have many pathologists in Africa and in the world. Many doctors prefer other departments because of the face-to-face interaction with the patient. In pathology, you’re behind-the-scenes, you don’t get to meet the patient. However, I feel it is the core of medicine because without proper diagnosis you’re unable to treat a patient.

How was the AKU programme?
The residency programme is tough (laughs) but it is worth it. The mentorship, practical experience and colleagues are all top notch. I really enjoyed my time at AKU and will miss my friends, faculty and staff at the Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi. One of my highlights was a research presentation I made at the 2019 Early-Career Health Researchers’ Conference. I was not only exposed to research from other medical fields but received valuable insight from the keynote speakers.

Why did you decide to go back home?
I wanted to return to Somalia because the population is high and the pathologists are few. I want to use my knowledge and skills to serve my community and country.

Now that you’ve graduated, what next?
For now, I want to practice pathology – to give proper and accurate diagnosis to patients. My long term goals include running free medical clinics for tumor patients to get proper diagnosis and treatment. I also want to open a free clinic for cancer patients.