- You are not quite prepared for Dr Kiran Radia’s vim and sparkle, the antithesis of a pathologist; an enthused conversationalist, curious, energetic, fashionable, and playful.
- She is one of the pioneer women pathologists in Kenya having attained her post-graduate training in pathology in St Thomas Hospital and a fellow of Royal College of Pathologists.
- She then worked at Aga Khan Hospital for 16 years before opening Pathcare with a South African group in 2002. Pathcare Kenya’s top management is all women.
You are not quite prepared for Dr Kiran Radia’s vim and sparkle, the antithesis of a pathologist; an enthused conversationalist, curious, energetic, fashionable, and playful. [Our photographer described her as ‘sunny side up’] She is one of the pioneer women pathologists in Kenya having attained her post-graduate training in pathology in St Thomas Hospital and a fellow of Royal College of Pathologists. She then worked at Aga Khan Hospital for 16 years before opening Pathcare with a South African group in 2002. Pathcare Kenya’s top management is all women.
For this interview with JACKSON BIKO she shows up wearing a kaftan-like dress, her hair falling around her face, giving her a gypsy-like look, a traveller, tethered to nothing, always chasing the sunset.
What drew you to this profession, I’m sure you could have been a million other things.
I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was 10 years old. I played doctor games. After studying medicine at the University of Nairobi, I noticed that all medics ran to the lab for answers. Medicine is a jigsaw puzzle, you put a case together. That’s how I decided I wanted to work in a lab, because that’s where all the answers to medicine lie. You know, a diagnosis is only a calculated myth until it is confirmed by a laboratory test. (Big grin) It is not a glamorous career, you have very little interaction with patients, but you look at their blood and their tissues. But I love it. That’s how I became an anatomical pathologist. When I finished in London, there was a shortage of pathologists. I would have taken the many offers I got there but I came back and I was the third histopathologist in the country and the first woman anatomical pathologist. That’s back in 1980.
Was it very tough getting here?
Of course, especially for a woman in those days. But I learnt to be tough as the men. During my internship in the operating theatre, helping surgeons, the language they used…(Chuckle). They would say, ‘you can’t have an excuse because you are a woman, you have to pretend you are not a woman.’ I just got used to not being a woman among the men because we were so few. It takes great courage and willpower but I have been blessed. I have a wonderful husband, an oncologist, who I met in medical school. I did my postgraduate after marriage and I had so much support from him. I must say, a woman cannot do much if she does not have support. Especially if she is married. They have been told that their final job is to have children and raise a family. I have two children, my daughter is a doctor in Nottingham. She is currently doing a presentation with an oncologist, they are trying to put up a bone marrow transplant in Kenya. She is 5 foot tall, nobody can think she is a doctor, maybe a student. (Laughs) She is also the one who buys all my clothes and shoes, she is very fashionable. I will tell her you said I look like a gypsy. My son is a corporate lawyer in London.
Your children are all grown and set in life. You have been on this grind since 2002, so I’m sure you are comfortable financially. Why do you wake up every morning to come here?
Everybody says I should retire but I like the excitement of coming to work, finding something new. You never get bored in medicine. When my son hears us talk about medicine, he feels he missed his vacation. (Laughs) I come here because I change patients’ lives. I don’t enjoy golf, I don’t enjoy cards, I don’t enjoy coffee parties, because I haven’t done it. As a retirement plan, I will still be doing this but at the community level in the not-so-fortunate areas. I built this place up, now I want to leave a legacy.
What do you wish you knew in your 30s that you know now?
A lot. (Pause) I wish I had spent more time with my children. I’m Indian and you know how our culture works. I’m still .
I had a lovely mother-in-law who allowed me to leave for London for studies while she took care of my children and instilled the right values in them. My only regret in life is not being there with them when they were growing up. I was so busy attending conferences, building knowledge, doing research.
What do you fear?
(Long pause) I don’t know. (Whispers) What do I fear? (Pause) What do you fear, Jackson?
Bad health for myself, my children and my closest. That and poverty - the financial type.
(Concerned face) You know, Jackson, I hope this doesn’t sound spoiled but I have not known poverty. That’s something I don't think of. You can understand that, right? (Lowers voice) I’ve always been privileged. I was one of 10 children but we had enough to support us and to go to universities. So I have not known poverty. When I was at Kenyatta National Hospital, the sick would come to the lab and pay Sh50, which was all their savings. I felt their desperation. I’m more exposed to the poor now and it’s sad.
What do you have when we remove pathology from your life?
I would have enjoyed my grandchildren but my children haven’t obliged. (Laughs) I’m very upset, Jackson. When I see my colleagues playing with their grandchildren I feel sad. I have even offered that if they have children, I will retire and look after them. Nothing. Do you think I did something wrong?
No. They are like you when you were younger, chasing a career. When you and your husband got home, what did you talk about?
(Laughs) We talked about a family member with Covid. It’s a worrisome moment. We talked about my son who just became a partner with a law firm. My husband said that one of his uncles told him, ‘you should be proud of your children,’ and he said, ‘yes, I am proud.’ You know that is your biggest satisfaction when your children have turned out to be sound members of society with good values because of the money you can make.
What aspect of your life are you trying to develop now?
I have expectations of people, of my children. My husband always says, don’t have expectations on anyone, take people for who they are not what you expect them to be.
I’m also working on my anger. Sometimes I will find myself shouting at someone who works for me and my husband will stop me. He is the calmest person I know, he has been trying to get me to meditate for a while now. Maybe I will get onto that.
What do you spend your money on now?
Travel. We take a vacation twice a year, as a family, the four of us. It’s always fun. But also, my husband is a giver. He is very philanthropic. He makes me a better person, to be honest. I would be nothing without him.