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Dr. Felister Wangari Maini: An Interview with our Colleague in Kenya

Melissa Culp, Director of UNC Global Radiology, recently sat down with Dr. Felister Wangari Maini, from UNC Radiology’s international collaboration with the University of Nairobi and Kenyatta National Hospital, to understand more about the impact of the partnership.

Mrs. Melissa Culp: Thank you for talking with us today. Would you start by telling us about yourself?

Dr. Felister Wangari Maini: My name is Felister Wangari Maina. I am a Kenyan by birth. I grew up in Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, and continue to work within the city, after a short stint within the smaller towns. I am a radiologist and also a proud mother of 2 children, a girl 11 years and boy 7 years.

I received my initial education at a primary school in Nairobi called Kilimani Junior Academy after which I joined a renowned secondary school called Alliance Girls High school, one of the top girls’ school in Kenya. This led me to the University of Nairobi where I did my undergraduate and postgraduate medical studies.


MPC: Why did you decide to be a physician?

FWM: I decided to be a physician in my early childhood years. My most enjoyable game was when my sister and I played ‘doctor-doctor’… a make-believe game where she and I played doctors to our dolls. I loved performing ‘operations’ on the dolls. In my later years, when I joined the medical school, I was convinced that I had made the right choice, when I came face to face with patients, seeing their suffering and realizing how even small patient interactions could change the course of a person’s illness or experience within the health system positively.


MPC: You are a member of the inaugural interventional radiology (IR) fellowship at the University of Nairobi (UoN) in Kenya. UNC faculty and staff have helped partner with UoN to support educational opportunities for the fellowship by providing didactics, oral exams, simulation, and (prior to pandemic) hands-on training. How does the fellowship support your career as a radiologist?

FWM: I have been a radiologist for the last 5 years at the national teaching and referral hospital, Kenyatta National Hospital. During this time, I have worked alongside the few IR specialists (2) to learn and improve my skills in IR. It is during this time that I met the team from RAD-AID International, led by Professor Bob Dixon and joined by other UNC faculty and staff. This team has been pivotal in upgrading our IR practice within the hospital and within the teaching universities. They have always been gracious during their visits, donating their time to teaching the different levels of staff in the IR suite, including the residents, visiting radiologists from other centers, nurses and radiologic technologists.  Whenever they visit, they integrate with the teams on the ground to enable them to learn our situational differences and then together, we have implemented many changes following these interactions.

Typical examples include operationalizing of a time-out procedure, operationalizing of nursing notes for all procedures, infection prevention protocols, formulation of protocols for different procedures. We have done clinical audits during their stay to help us lobby for new IR equipment and staffing needs assessments for the IR unit with the hospital management.

As a fellow in the inaugural class for a fellowship in Interventional Radiology at the University of Nairobi, the UNC faculty have come in to strongly support the program in form of didactic lectures, setting written and oral exams and setting up teachings by simulation. Our university has only 1 fully trained IR lecturer. Their participation has enabled this new fellowship program take shape and gain credence. It has enriched it through the participation of a number of external lecturers from UNC-Chapel Hill, Weill Cornell Medicine, Thomas Jefferson University, UCLA, Aventura Hospital, and other institutions. It allows us to learn IR techniques that are as yet, unavailable to us currently due to lack of machinery or consumables, which keeps us updated as to what is happening in the rest of the world in IR spheres.

Professor Dixon has gone an extra mile in assisting this program by getting us onto the SIR training essentials to further help us along with our studying. He has even gained us sponsored access into the 2021 SIR conference! All this would have been so difficult for us to do, due to the financial implications associated with registration for these. He has also gone to great lengths to lobby with the hospital management for support of the IR unit with a new machine.

The importance of this collaboration with UNC cannot be underscored enough. It has been an uphill task trying to get into a fellowship program for the last few years due to many problems including and not limited to, different education systems, the competitive nature of applications for IR programs with other resident physicians in that country, language barriers in Non-English speaking countries, catering for living expenses in a foreign country, and now, the travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This collaboration between UNC and the University of Nairobi allows us, for the first time in our country, get world class training, while at home with our families and get training in an affordable and sustainable way. My children are the greatest beneficiaries of this program!

Would you be able to share with us about a patient that has benefited already from your participation in the IR fellowship?

FWM: Through the fellowship, we have gained knowledge that has given us confidence to do cases that we have not done before. For example, recently we had male patient with chronic limb ischemia, auto-amputation of some toes and a large, infected wound of the foot. He was at risk for limb loss and required an amputation. We were able to do our first lower limb balloon angioplasty and salvage the larger part of his leg.

MPC: Is there anything else that you would like to share?

FWM: IR is gaining traction in the medical field in Kenya, and is beginning to be appreciated as a major contributor in patient care. The possibilities as far as improvement of patient care in our setting, are endless. This program will be the gateway for this, through training of more IR specialists who can then offer their services to the marginalized communities, beyond the major towns. I believe that all patients should have the same level of quality care despite their financial ability or education level or where they come from. It is my hope that quality IR services will continue to spread throughout the country and through this, hopefully become more affordable and available to even our most marginalized and poorest patients, who so rightfully deserve our services.


Thank you to the faculty, staff, and residents of UNC Radiology who volunteer your time and give to support our global and local health equity initiatives! Appreciation to our Kenya collaboration partners—Society of Interventional Radiology, RAD-AID International, and Mentice.

Best regards,

Melissa Culp, M.Ed., RT(R)(MR)
Director of UNC Global Radiology
UNC Department of Radiology