In a small laboratory at Hamilton’s St. Joseph’s Hospital, Dr. Clement Okello sits peering into one of many microscopes that run in a line down the centre of the room. Okello turns some knobs on the scope to bring the white blood cells under the magnification lens into focus.
For most people, a peek into his microscope would reveal nothing more than a canvas of reddish blotches of ink. But to Okello who studies hematology (the study of blood), he sees much more.
The medical doctor is from the Abim District of Karamjoa, Uganda. He works at the Uganda Cancer Institute, Mulago Hospital in Kampala, the country’s capital.
He found his way to Hamilton through the International Outreach Program (IOP) to broaden his knowledge base in the specialty field of hematology. The IOP program runs out of St. Joseph’s Hospital and brings doctors to the city from countries such as Guyana, Haiti and Uganda to learn the latest developments in Canadian medicine. The goal of the program is for the doctors to take their new knowledge and skills back to their home country.
“There is a big gap in the field of hematology (compared to Canada) at the Uganda Cancer Institute,” said Okello. “ Because of my interest in this discipline I was identified and came to McMaster University to take a course unit on internal medicine. Here, (at St. Joseph’s) I can super-specialize in hematology; they don’t offer this training in Uganda.”
Okello admits Uganda is a third-world country but he still sees similarities between his home and Canada. It’s the differences he takes note of that he wants to take back to his medical practice in Kampala.
“The disease conditions in terms of hematology are not different but the patient population, we receive so many sick patients on the other side,” said Okello. “The diseases here are caught much earlier. Our in- patients back in Uganda are so ill, we need to tell the people to come in for regular checkups.”
Okello arrived in Hamilton in August and admits he has not seen much of the country, aside from Toronto and Niagara Falls. But he has met enough people to remark on how accepting Canadians can be. “The people here are so friendly,” said Okello. “Even in the hospital I haven’t experienced any discrimination, I love it. I can’t complain about not exploring. I am here to work hard and learn as much as possible.”
While he works long hours at the hospital now, when Okello gets back to Uganda, his workload will increase to a new level. “Uganda is a small country with a population of 36-million people,” said Okello. “There is only one cancer institute so once I get home I’ll be teaching students as well as treating people. We get so many people coming to the institute.”
Okello loves what he does, but a medical doctor who works this hard can’t do it without a stong support system.
“I miss my family so much and I know they miss me,” said Okello with a big smile. ”I wish I had them here with me. My family being back home is motivation for me to study hard. When I go back home I will work hard for them. My daughter always asks me if I am doing my readings.”
The International Outreach Program is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.