Ever wondered what your consultants and lecturers are like outside of the clinic and the classroom? Beyond the occasional licking of medical students and the impartation of wolo, are immensely interesting individuals with life experiences and passions which have shaped who they are today.
As part of the ‘Personality of the Month’ series, The UGMSA editorial board caught up with ‘breast surgeon extraordinaire’ Dr Dedey in her lovely home on Zoti Street for a candid exposé. Despite her busy schedule and numerous responsibilities, she made time to chat about her background, life in medical school, what she does when she’s not performing surgery, and some of her personal challenges and triumphs. What better way to culminate this month’s ‘pink-tober’ festivities than to celebrate a homegrown icon! Enjoy!
Editorial Board (EB): Can you please tell us about yourself?
Dr Dedey: My father is Fanti and my Mother is Akuapim. I was born in Kumasi. I Went to Wesley Girls for 7 years up to sixth Form then I came to University of Ghana Medical School. I graduated in 2001. After house job, I joined the department of Surgery and subsequently took the various exams and got my fellowship in surgery in 2009. Since then I have been working in the department, currently on 2nd floor which is the breast floor. Then [I think] I joined the University of Ghana as a lecturer in 2010. I am married to Michael; we have 3 children, 2 boys and a girl.
EB: So why Medicine?
Dr Dedey: I don’t know. I can’t tell why I liked it and decided to go into it and why I chose it. I really can’t tell.
EB: Why the interest in Surgery?
Dr. Dedey: I just like Surgery. I was on second floor actually for my Junior Clerkship. I enjoyed surgery so much that I decided to do Surgery. I’m not sure why the interest but I enjoyed it. I mean as soon as I did Surgery I thought that it was something I wanted to do and it stuck with me.
EB: Aside your regular practice, what other activities do you engage in.
Dr. Dedey:There is the Breast Society of Ghana. That is a society that was formed last year. It was really a push by Prof. Clegg Lamptey. We had our inaugural meeting in January last year.
At that meeting I was chosen to be the president of the society. What it hopes to do is to try and get everybody who is doing something related to breast together so that we can try and improve the outcomes of breast patients. We hope to carry out research, advocacy, education etc.
EB: What are some of the other challenges the society has faced?
Dr. Dedey: I must say it’s not been easy. We are dispersed. We have people from Tamale, Cape Coast, Kumasi, Akosombo, all the parts of the country. Even our executives are not all in Accra so it makes things a little more difficult. We are hoping to set up an office. Get somebody to run it. Once we are able to do that, it will make things a little easier. Of course, funds is also an issue.
EB: What are some of the notable achievements of the society
Dr. Dedey: So for last year October we partnered with the Breast team to carry out some educational activities. To hand out information leaflets for healthworkers. It will be done again this year. All the places where we have members too, we encourage them to increase awareness on breast cancer.
What we’ve tried to do is to come up with a 5 year plan to decide exactly on what we want to achieve.
EB: Do you have any other projects aside the Breast Society of Ghana
Dr. Dedey: What we call the Changing Young Minds Project. It was dreamt up and started by Prof Clegg-Lamptey, Dr Nsaful and myself. One of the reasons why we think people are not taking the right decisions and doing the right things when they are faced with breast cancer is our culture and norms we learn as we grow up. Such that if we are able to target the younger ladies. The younger generation, we can try and educate them properly on breast cancer. We are hoping that if we focus on the young ones they will grow up knowing what to do if they get symptoms or are diagnosed with breast cancer. We started in 2017 with going to some secondary schools. Between then and now, we have visited about 8 secondary schools. It is actually on breast and cervical cancer so we have a few gynaecologist with us. Before we go, we send a little sketch that we’ve developed which brings out the misconceptions about breast and cervical cancer. The drama team acts out the sketch and then we give short talks on breast and cervical cancer. We usually give them educational booklets at the end. I think it’s been very useful.
Again there are challenges. For most that we have done, we had to sponsor the trips ourselves. It is a bit difficult trying to do our normal work and adding this to it. Our hope is eventually to get it done in other regions. We are trying also to see if we can work with the ministry of education.
EB: Do you think with both projects have contributed to the improvement in the outcomes of breast diseases?
Dr. Dedey: For the Changing Young Minds Project, it is difficult to tell because these are young girls between 15 to 18. They are not going to have breast cancer at this age. For them much of the impact will not be seen now.
For the Breast Society of Ghana, it is just a year old. We went to the markets to share the message. We did an impact assessment. We’ve not analyzed it yet. Impact really has to be on behavioral change. And that is going to be difficult to assess just yet. We are hoping that with time, we will see more early presentations and we will see more people being compliant with their treatments.
We have actually treated a few people with breast cancer who came because they heard something on radio or television or they even came for screening here.
EB: What do you consider as the most challenging experiences you have ever faced in your profession?
Dr. Dedey: [giggles] Most challenging experience? [sigh]. Of course as a surgeon you see someone you are going to operate and you realise it is something beyond what you can handle. That happens a few times. Readily, I remember one, I think it was a policeman who was shot by armed robbers so in the middle of the night I was called, I was on duty so I went, and there was some very severe bleeding from the liver. One good thing about working in Korle Bu is you have everybody to help you so in that situation I was able to call on the hepatobiliary surgeons for help. Recently again, I had a woman with an intra-abdominal tumor. A CT scan gave as the impression it was something quite superficial within the abdomen not attached to anything. I started and I could literally see the woman exsanguinating in front of me. It was frightening. Again, because I’m in Korle Bu, I was able to call for help and got other surgeons to come in to help.
EB: What do you consider as your most memorable moment as a surgeon in Korle Bu.
Dr. Dedey: [sighs], I don’t think there is one [laughs]. Generally, it is a joy see people who were really ill go home because of your surgical intervention. I do not think any one particular instance stands out.
EB: Do you consider yourself to have any weaknesses.
Dr. Dedey: [giggles] every human being has weaknesses[laughs].
EB: What do you think is yours?
Dr. Dedey: My weakness as a surgeon? [Sighs]. I think that at times I am a bit too overcautious. I mean during surgery, I take my time and make sure everything is safe. I do not like to take risk but when it comes to surgery, at times you need to take risks. I guess it is why I decided to specialize in breast as well.
EB: How do you manage to balance your life as a surgeon with your family?
Dr Dedey: Two things:
First is that I have had my mother living with me since I had my first child 15 years ago. I go to work, I stay long hours, and I am not bothered because I know my mum is at home.
Secondly, my husband is supportive. He never complains about my work. I think that is also helpful. That gives me the peace of mind to do what you have to do. If you go to work and you are late, you are not sweating because somebody is sitting at home getting angry. Not at all.
Apart from not complaining, he is also accommodative. Other people may not be able to live with me, the way I do things.
EB: Have you ever been in any situation where you would have to choose between family and work?
Dr Dedey: When you are on duty, you know you are on duty. No matter what is happening at home you know you are on duty. For me it’s not really a choice. I think medicine is such that you cannot choose between that and something else. It’s not even a question that comes up. It has to be done. It’s not pleasant but I really think there’s no choice there because it is somebody’s life.
EB: What do consider as your greatest strength professionally?
Dr Dedey: Interesting, I don’t think I’ve thought of that. I think I’m empathetic. I have a good rapport with the patients. People seem to be comfortable with me. I try to look at patients, as I would want people to treat me if I were in that situation.
EB: Where do you see yourself in your profession within the next decade?
Dr Dedey: I’m into doing breast things. I hope that we will make some improvements in patient care. One thing I hope we will start doing is sentinel lymph node biopsies. We’ve done one or two but it’s not a routine part of our practice. I think that is really the best standard of care for our breast patients.
EB: What were some of the challenges you faced as a medical student and a word of advice to students?
Dr Dedey: Hehe, Will I remember? [Laughs]. When I was in school, all I did was to learn. I remember in surgery for instance Prof. Clegg Lamptey used to make fun of me that the BAJA was my handbag because you will always see it lying on my hand as I walk around. It was all learning, learning, learning and not much else for me so I’m not sure I had any real challenges.
Advice; in life you should know what your priorities are. If you know what your priorities are, If you know what to focus on.
EB: Ever since you started practicing do you think your passion for medical practice has waned?
Dr Dedey: Definitely not waned. I am a lot more passionate about breast than I used to be. You tend to see situations that really break your heart. Young people refuse treatment and tend to be in a bad state knowing that if they had come earlier it would be a better situation. That is what is pushing us to do what we are doing now.
EB: Do you recall any memorable moments as a medical student?
Dr Dedey: [Laughs] Let me say my memory is very poor. I keep wondering how I became a doctor and a surgeon [laughs]. I think school was difficult but it was ok. One good thing is you make friends. I have friends from medical school who are still my friends.
EB: Outside your practice as a medical doctor, what do you do as a hobby to pass time?
Dr Dedey:[Sigh] I’m not sure I have hobbies now. I swim but the last time I went for swimming was more than a year ago. I play squash as well, but this whole year I haven’t played. I used to read. These days it is difficult to pick a storybook to read when there is work. Sounds like I don’t have any hobby [laughs].
EB: If you had the option to choose any other profession aside being a doctor, what would you love to do and why?
Dr Dedey:Hmm… That is a difficult question. [After a long thought]. As you can see it’s not something I’ve thought of [laughs]. Maybe still something in the health profession. Not pharmacy. I don’t think I could have done pharmacy. I did not like the pure sciences. I don’t think I could have done the art courses. I do not think I could have done business either. Maybe nursing, that’s quite close to being a doctor isn’t it [laughs].
Why? Because I can’t do the other things [laughs].
EB: If you were to choose to be an animal which would it be
Dr Dedey:Eish, that’s a strange question [laughs]. Maybe a bird. When I was young I used to admire and envy them. The way they were free to go everywhere. That is something that appeals to me. The fact that you are not restricted to the ground.
EB: So we would like to end the interview with just a small brain teaser. We’ll grade you and see if you pass
Dr Dedey:[laughs]. Don’t come and give me stress
EB: A man and his son had a terrible accident on the Tema Motorway and were rushed to Korle Bu Teaching Hospital. The man died on the way, but the son was still barely alive. When they arrived at the Accident and Emergency, they were immediately rushed to the theatre and an old gray surgeon was called in to operate. Upon seeing the young boy, the surgeon said
‘I cannot operate, this is my son.’
How is this possible
Dr Dedey:The surgeon is a woman, so the mother. So I passed [laughs]
EB: Yes you did. No resit for you. Thank you very much Dr. Dedey for the interview.
Interview by: Patrick Sarpong Akosa (2021) and Enu Beula Otsyina (2021)