Dr. Prabha V. Choksey

1. Please tell us about your journey as a Woman Ophthalmologist. What inspired you to be an Ophthalmologist?

Gift of sight is the greatest gift that any medical professional can give to humanity. It is said that Women are the real architects of the Society and the eyes are the windows to your body(total health) and soul hence the great significance of women ophthalmologist in the world. My journey as a woman Ophthalmologist has been the most exciting and fulfilling journey of my life with my inspiration and motivation coming from the love and gratitude coming from the eyes of my patients beyond geographical borders, religion, colour and race.

2. You are the first woman lecturer at the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Nairobi. What was your favourite part about this role?

I joined as a lecturer in Surgery at University of Nairobi in 1989. Ophthalmology was part of Department of Surgery and as far as I can remember I was the only woman lecturer in the whole male dominated department.

When I came to Kenya I was already a Professor and head of the department of Ophthalmology at the prestigious Grant Medical College and J.J. Group of Hospitals in Bombay, India. I was also incharge of the Laser treatment for diabetic retinopathy in the hospital and had gained great expertise in treating all types of eye condition.

Department of Ophthalmology had already established partnership with University of Munich and there was always a German Lecturer attached to the department. I had the great fortune of working with Dr Vogel, Dr. Thomas Schaal, Dr Martin Kollmann and others. I felt a new world of Western Ophthalmology was opened up to me. India was probably 10 years ahead of Kenya and Germany was probably 10 years ahead of India in Ophthalmology in those days. My experience in India specially in high volume cataract, surgery dealing with high volume O.P.D patients, Refraction and Laser treatment were in my opinion my greatest assets in Kenya.

I realized that though the post-graduate students were trained in the most modern techniques in ophthalmology they found it difficult to practice at grass root level in Africa. My favorite part of being a lecturer was becoming a bridge between modern and grass root level Ophthalmology and I felt proud to represent the whole of Asia in Ophthalmology in Kenya. It was a wonderful combination of Germany, India and Africa (Prof Henry Adala and Dr Sajabi Masinde) working together to find solutions to the various eye problems. Quality of my teaching improved a lot with power point presentations and sophisticated equipment.

I also had the great opportunity to teach the fundamental knowledge of medical education to all my students i.e

What the mind does not know

The Eye does not see

3. You are now in Private Practice. Many women are considering transitioning into Private Practice. What tips would you give to them?

I have always believed health is not just physical health there are mental, emotional and spiritual aspects to a healthy person. In the formal employment sector with high volume of patients that an Ophthalmologist may have to see, they may not be able to give enough time to understand mental and emotional problems behind the physical ailment. In private practice you can understand your patients much better. You have a choice to decide how much time you want to give to your practice and how much time you want to give to your family specially if you have young children.

Finally, every woman must decide for herself. It might be a good idea to form a support group practice helping other woman Ophthalmologists with surgery, doing locum, referring patients to each other just to be your sister’s keeper without putting too much emphasis on financial gains.

4. At each stage of the career in Ophthalmology there are choices and opportunity costs. How can woman Ophthalmologists handle the unique circumstances and personal choices?

I feel parenting is the most important aspect of human life, what values you learn from your parents in childhood, identifying some purpose to your life, and doing some Community work which makes you very happy are extremely crucial to your personal happiness. I learnt two very important lessons from my parents which have been a guiding force in my life

  • Holding the ladder for others to climb gives you more happiness than climbing the ladder yourself.
  • One who gives is happier than one who receives.

From my young days I had introduced a third angle to my work-home balance that of Charity and Philanthropy. So I learnt to divide my time equally in 3 parts Ophthalmology, Family and Charity, the last giving me maximum satisfaction and happiness to have chosen Ophthalmology as a career.

5. What practices or tools do you use to keep yourself physically and mentally fit?

It is extremely important in life to have some hobby or activity that keeps you physically fit and mentally alert. I have always loved reading, in my childhood. I collected stamps and did a lot cross stitch embroidery. I have always been fascinated by Numbers and have authored books on the subject of Numerology – The Science of Numbers, I love writing and can write for hours I have authored a book The Beautiful Art of Parenting – My Journey which is a tribute to my parents.I love bird watching and am working on my book ‘Secrets of Nature discovered through bird watching’. I am also writing a book A Ladder from a Cross -Voices and Stories of Albino Children of Africa. For my physical fitness I do yoga, meditation and walking for at least half an hour every day, even in my balcony during this pandemic

6. When you are not at your practice what are some of the other things you like to do?

I love travelling, seeing new places and meeting new people. I also enjoy cooking, bird watching, writing and photography. I believe in living life to the full everyday striving to make a better version of myself.  My favourite saying is “I am not a rat so I am out of the rat race”. I consciously do not give in to competitions or peer pressures.

7. What opportunities for leadership, mentorship development can Women Ophthalmologist leverage on?

It is your story you are writing in life; every person has a different approach to life. Opportunities keep coming in everyone’s life, it is important to identify and act on those that you feel will help you rise up in life. Good to remember that The opportunity of a lifetime must always be seized in the life time of the opportunity. Every dream has a shelf life; every idea has a shelf life. Life itself has a shelf life. Whatever you do in life make sure you leave the world a better place than you found it. My favorite quote on success

To laugh often and much

To win the respect of

Intelligent people and affection of children

To leave the world a better place

To know even one life has breathed easier

Because you have lived

This is to have succeeded

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Bringing smiles to Albino Children through Gift of Sight and Education has been the most satisfying aspect of my life.

8. We know there are huge gender disparities in the access and uptake of eye care services in our region and women are often left behind. Do women Ophthalmologists face gender bias and or disparities in their practice?

For most women family always comes first and sometimes they may neglect themselves and their own health issues, making the family and society take them for granted. Even in their profession they probably have to work twice as hard as men to prove their worth. In the medical profession if you are good in your work and are sincere, gender bias or disparities do not play a major role. I have personally had a great and a satisfying career as a woman Ophthalmologist.

9. How can woman Ophthalmologist network and support each other?

I think time has come for women to stop competing with men but to focus on helping other women climb up in life.

In Ophthalmology women can help each other by identifying each other’s strong points like some may be excellent surgeons, some excellent teachers and some excellent clinicians, they can refer difficult cases to each other, do locums for each other or senior women Ophthalmologists can mentor junior women Ophthalmologists.

Finally – Together we stand, divided we fall.

Women Ophthalmologists together can form a formidable group in preventing and treating Blindness in the world.