In February, she was among seven unionist doctors who spent two cold nights in prison where basic facilities like toilets or latrines are shared. That would be disturbing for doctors whose second name is hygiene.
They were jailed for contempt of court.
The six representatives of medics under the umbrella Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) had been in and out of court before their imprisonment fighting for improved work conditions that involved tough negotiations.
She could not even see the judge — Hellen Wasilwa — clearly as she stood before her that afternoon. Her spectacles broke in street protests, part of record-breaking industrial unrest that ran for 100 days, defying a spirited lobbying to return to work. The doctors resumed duty this week after agreeing on a return-to-work formula.
Daisy Korir, 31, an extrovert and confident unionist who says she is passionate about health issues is the national treasurer of the union.
Initially she wanted to become a pilot but by the time she was in Class Six of primary school, she developed eyesight glitches and started using prescription glasses. An uncle discouraged her from that dream of flying on the basis that pilots must have good eyesight.
Quickly, she switched to a new love, namely medicine; and, she has never looked back since.
Other unionists who were sentenced to jail were Ouma Oluga, the KMPDU secretary general, Samuel Oroko (chairman), Mwanchoda Chibandzi (deputy secretary general), Titus Ondoro (second vice chair), and Allan Ochanji (first vice chair). Evelyne Chege, the deputy treasurer, is the other woman in the list of seven unionists.
The human anatomy, Dr Korir says, got her hooked and her passion keeps intensifying since she joined medical school in 2005 at Moi University. She was in medical school for 10 years; six years as an undergraduate, a compulsory one year of internship and three years for a post-graduate programme.
“My passion became intense when I joined medical school in 2005, I found the course fascinating a lot when I started learning the entire human body and how it’s co-ordinated into various organised systems,” she said.
A physician at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, she attended a primary school in her Kipkeigei rural home of Bomet County.
Saying she prefers a private life away from the union hustle and bustle, the medic remembers being “a hardworking and determined lady” when growing up but brimming with the dream of becoming a union leader to fight for better public health care and improvement of the welfare of doctors.
Her dream has come true, rising to the national leadership of a 5,500-member doctors’ union and in charge of the sensitive money docket.
An alumnus of Moi Girls School, Eldoret, Dr Korir says her “clinical years after four years of basic sciences” at the medical school gave her opportunity to interact with patients, an experience that thrust her to the “world of suffering that patients go through every day”.
Giving people hope of a better health and a better future compelled her to champion for the patient’s rights. A patient is a suffering and disadvantaged individual due to something out of their control (an illness), hence anything anyone can do to make it bearable and better should be done, she explains. “The words the patient and their relatives tell you in gratitude when they are leaving the hospital like a simple “thank you, daktari (doctor), God bless you” is what makes me sleep well at night and look forward to another day.”
She chose to specialise in internal medicine for its flexibility in terms of the time spent at work. Being a doctor, she offers, is demanding and the dream of having to raise a family one day require adequate time and balance.
As a first born in a family of five children, she draws inspiration from parents who have “always sacrificed a lot to provide for me and encourage me to be what I am today.”
During the strike, her parents were “very concerned about me and my safety; any parent would.” Life in the union means giving up most of her weekends to attend to doctors’ issues, allowing her little time for family and friends.
A typical day for Dr Korir begins at 7am doing pre-rounds to assess the critically ill patients to sort out any emergencies before the main teaching ward rounds begin at 9am, attended by undergraduate students, medical interns and other health workers.
She has “a small lunch break” at 1pm when relatives come in to visit patients and gets back to work at 2pm to perform procedures and also review patients.
When not working in the night, she leaves by 6pm, however the night duty runs until 8am or 9am the next day.
During the strike, President Uhuru Kenyatta lost his cool, saying doctors were working for two hours a day before they go to their consultancies in private hospitals.
Her greatest challenge is having to improvise a lot to try and save life. The most disheartening thing, though is having to lose a patient who could have been saved because of lacking facilities and equipment. “Having to explain to relatives who came to me with nothing else but hope for the doctor to help save a life is the hardest part.”
However, fulfilment is discharging a patient who has improved from that time of admission.
“One misconception about being a doctor that I want to demystify” is that she earns a lot of money. It is not the kind of money that would make someone think she can be the chief guest in every fundraiser, she says on a light note. In fact, Dr Korir says she runs a car wash and is in farming.
Being a doctor is a big title — because of the role one plays in saving lives — but the title doesn’t necessarily come with a hefty pay cheque, she says.
Dr Korir rarely has time for leisure but when she does, the bulk of it is spent with the family, first. Watching movies or going out for a swim will be fine for the medic who says her work-life balance involves frequent calls to extended family and dedicating Christmas Day to celebrate with them.
Due to the chronic shortage of doctors in Kenya, as a doctor she cannot have both Christmas and New Year celebrations; she chooses one.
Medical students should be sure of their passion in medicine before pursuing this profession. The challenges faced while attending to patients require patience, compassion and perseverance, says Dr Korir.
Finding oneself in the wrong profession can be a source of misery and hurt service delivery to deserving patients, she reiterates.
The plight of people who cannot afford care in private hospitals pushes the doctors’ treasurer to do “everything” in her power to make them access better care in public facilities.