Scheduled for the middle of a busy February week, under the sombre cloud of a protracted public health sector-wide medics strike, convocation day was more of another working day than a celebration. Yet celebrate I did!
I savoured every moment of the impressive ceremony. Everything went as rehearsed. The emcee was impeccable. My friend, and favourite anaesthesia resident Dr Angela Ongewe, was in her element as she delivered the farewell address.
Then, I was an assistant editor with the Annals of African Surgery (AAS). AAS is the peer reviewed official journal of the Surgical Society of Kenya (SSK). We publish basic and clinical research in surgical and allied disciplines. Our vision is to be the premier surgical magazine in Anglophone Africa. I was happy to work under the tutelage of the founding editor-in-chief, who was also my faculty and mentor, the late Prof Hassan Saidi.
Among the milestones we have achieved is transitioning the journal to an online manuscript submission system that is easy and author friendly. This platform has not only enriched our pool of reviewers by connecting us to a world of content experts through the Web of Science link, it has also brought about transparency and urgency in the editorial process.
Secondly, we have trained surgical healthcare workers from across East and Central Africa with the aim of demystifying the concept of writing and to encourage clinicians to document some of the interesting cases that they encounter. For it is only by sharing our data that we can discover any subtle variance with what we know from existing literature, and therefore generate evidence bending research questions.
Thirdly, we are in collaboration with prestigious northern journals including the New England Journal of Medicine, JAMA Network, Lancet, and the Annals of Internal Medicine. These partnership aims to improve our editorial quality through exchange programs, trainings and financial assistance.
As an editor, I feel there is so much data lying in our various physical and electronic medical repositories. More often, a senior clinician will be at ease to mention some particular anecdotal observations in their practice that are not in conformity with what we read in acclaimed literature. Sounds familiar?
This remains the present monumental challenge. To create the habit of publishing what we do. If we look at every case as worthy of publication, it beholds us to carry out the treatment in a manner that can withstand scientific peer critique. It beholds us to read wide, looking for that special ‘something’ that is not in keeping with conventional wisdom. Remember the mantra, ‘diseases do not read books?’ We need to write from these diseases that do not read the books we have.
To fellow alumni, please add a little noise to the good work you are doing. You and I know what health challenges in Kenya, sub-Saharan Africa, and indeed the entire world faces. Let’s add advocacy to our treatment plans. We harbour the advantage of being frontline soldiers in the war against disease. Our first hand experiences with the patients give us the rare pedestal of expertise from where to advocate for better health care. If you can take thorough history to arrive at a diagnosis, you can give a compelling story.
If you can critically support a patient who is very ill, you can critique a health policy paper.
If you are good with the tip of the scalpel, you can be good with the tip of the pen!
Dr Stanley Aruyaru is a Consultant General Surgeon and Associate Editor, Annals of African Surgery