Evans Okwaro: Medical Physics Resident Helping Kenya with Cancer Control
THIS IS AN EXCERPT FROM THE 2015-2016 ANNUAL REPORT.
The one thing you need to know about Evans Okwaro is his passion to help his fellow Kenyans. After losing his brother to cancer, he has been on a long and winding path to becoming one of Kenya’s few medical physicists. “By helping me become a medical physicist, you are making a direct investment in the lives of the 27,000 people who are dying of cancer in Kenya each year,” he said.
Evans is enrolled in an international version of UTDRO’s Medical Physics Residency Program. For the first time in history, UTDRO faculty members are training a medical physicist outside of the regular certification process governed by the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Physics Education Programs (CAMPEP), which is the North American body that certifies medical physics residents. Evans will undergo the same training as the other residents and upon finishing the program, return to work in Kenya.
The Medical Physics team at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre has been exploring ways to help cancer centres in other countries become self-sufficient. Similar to how they helped centres in Kuwait, the team is looking at Kenya. Dr. Monique van Prooijen, a medical physicist at the Princess Margaret, visited Kenya and met with the Radiation Medicine team in Eldoret. “I first met Evans there,” she said. “He already had an interest in medical physics and needed assistance in joining a Canadian residency program.”
Due to the lack of treatment facilities in Kenya, no medical physics training programs were available to Evans. After high school, he enrolled in electrical engineering and nuclear physics programs with the hopes that the right door will open up for him.
And the right door did open up. During his Master’s program at the University of Birmingham, following Monique’s advice, Evans researched the fetal dose of radiation using different delivery platforms. This exposure to medical physics was the reason he was chosen by UTDRO and the Princess Margaret for a modified residency in medical physics.
The Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret, Kenya, is currently only set up for chemotherapy and surgical oncology. They are hoping to set up a radiation therapy department in 2017. Unfortunately, there is a severe shortage of staff who can work in radiation therapy in Kenya. In the entire country, there are only a handful of radiation oncologists, radiation therapists and medical physicists. Instead of recruiting internationally for the new radiation therapy department, the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital is choosing to train its current staff, including Evans.
Since arriving in Toronto in January of 2016, Evans has been on an intensive two-year track to become a clinical medical physicist. He is working on his medical physics residency as well as taking background courses in radiobiology, anatomy, radiation shielding and protection, radiotherapy physics and imaging. “Learning many years of materials in just two years has been my biggest challenge here,” he said. “I am doing two things at one time: building the foundation that my colleagues already have and learning medical physics. Since I arrived in Toronto, I have not slept more than six hours a night. I spend all my free time catching up on the background courses.”
Both the current and previous Directors of the Medical Physics Residency program, Drs. Andrea McNiven and Jean-Pierre Bissonnette are excited to have Evans training in their program. Andrea explained that Evans is “very dedicated and inquisitive. He seems to have a deep sense of responsibility to ensure that he is ready to work safely and effectively when he returns to Kenya.”
Evans plans to return to the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Kenya to help start their radiotherapy department. “I want to strengthen the collaboration between UTDRO and the Moi University and contribute to a new Master’s degree program that will be starting in Kenya,” he said. “The faculty and colleagues have been so helpful here. They always make time for me; they helped me find a place to live and become acclimatized to the extreme weather. Dr. Jean-Pierre Bissonnette even gave me some books to start off my residency! I would love for other Kenyans to learn from such a helpful team.”
IMAGE CREDIT: HORST HERGET PHOTOGRAPHY