Papua New Guinea’s first woman neurosurgeon graduates at UPNG

Neurosurgeon Dr Esther Apuahe
Neurosurgeon Dr Esther Apuahe ... “Neurosurgery is such a hard field. At that time [she started studies in the specialist field], there were only two male neurosurgeons.” Image: PNG Post-Courier

By Phoebe Gwangilo in Port Moresby

Papua New Guinea’s first woman neurosurgeon has graduated from the national university.

Dr Esther Apuahe graduated with a higher post-diploma in neurosurgery during the University of Papua New Guinea’s 67th graduation ceremony yesterday.

“She is the first female neurosurgeon in Papua New Guinea,” said the dean of UPNG’s Medical Faculty, Professor Nakapi Tefuarani.

Dr Apuahe, 43, originally from Morobe and married with three children, was also the first Papua New Guinean woman surgeon to finish in 2012.

“Surgery for almost 30 years had no female graduate since 1979 when the first male graduated. And, it has been a male-dominated field,” she said.

“In 2008 I started doing my masters in surgery at UPNG. I became the first female to finish in surgery.

“I finished in 2012 and I went out as a general surgeon at Vanimo General Hospital and I was called back here to take up neurosurgery.

New field for PNG
“It is a new field, basically to do with surgery of any brain pathology, head injuries and any brain tumour.

“Surgery, in the field of medicine, has been a male-dominated field.”

Dr Apuahe wanted to do something more than general surgery and, therefore, took up study in neurosurgery.

“After that, working outside, I felt that I needed to do more, maybe going further into surgery in some specialising,” she said.

Her study, which started in 2015, took a little longer than expected due to the pandemic as well as the unavailability of mentors.

“Neurosurgery is such a hard field. At that time, there were only two male neurosurgeons,” Dr Apuahe said.

“Because there was no one to cover in Port Moresby, I was called to come back here, so I’ve been here since 2015.

Not an easy journey
“The journey is not easy, it has been hard trying to manage patients and training with no medical supervision, just supervision externally, from Australia.

“It probably took a long time from 2015. I started, not officially, on training just getting some hands-on experience and I started towards the end of 2016, commencing neurosurgery.

“I had an attachment in Townsville (Australia) in 2019, but just as I was completing that, covid-19 came and so I was unfortunate enough to go before the pandemic and I came back and I sat for my exam last July.

“I thank the Royal Australian College for being there, supporting the training of neurosurgery and also to the academics at UPNG such as Professor Isi Kevau who pushed us through to make sure that I succeeded.

“After I graduated, there are now about eight female surgeons.”

Phoebe Gwangilo is a PNG Post-Courier reporter. Republished with permission.

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