DR. PENINAH KITILILI is the only doctor in the whole country who wears three hats concurrently. She wears the hat of a dermatologist (skin care), pediatrician (babies care), and venereologist (STDs doctor). In her interview, she is a very eloquent, equivocal, focused, and family oriented doctor amongst all odds within the field of medicine.
It is not every day that you walk and meet a doctor who has more than not one but more than two specialties in the field of medicine. In fact, she is a rare gem to be an expert in expert in children, STDs and skin diseases.
Meet the 62 years old Dr. Peninah Kitilili, the unstoppable woman who besides wearing the three hats, she has an extra cap- she is the first ever woman to become the head of DERMATOLOGY department at the Kenyatta National Hospital.
Besides all these achievements, Dr. Peninah is a down to earth personality.
She says, " I love to serve people and that is why I am doing whatever it takes to help as many people as an I can."
Having all these qualifications one might be tempted to say that she has completely immersed herself within the field of medicine but truth be told. Medicine was the last career she ever thought about.
She narrates how her mother who was a teacher and her father who was a district land adjudication officer during her tender age always worked hard to see her study well. In fact, " I always admired my mother and her career, so i grew up assertively knowing that i will one day become a teacher says Dr. Peninah who attended Kikaso Primary school in Machakos County.
"While studying in Precious Blood Kilungu, there was a nun who every time i bumped into her, she was always reading and making matters worse, she was our teacher. So it kind of clicked into my mind that for me to become a teacher, it means I will be reading all the time. This idea did not linger well with me. I always performed well in class despite the fact that I never liked much reading. It was so controversial for me to emulate the reading culture," she adds.
Fast forward, she excelled in her high school studies and proceeded to campus. Here something funny happened. I was so much fascinated with studying a Bachelors degree in Agriculture. A course that I knew very well that it would make me become daddy's favorite daughter since it was in close connection to his career.
While attending one of the agriculture classes in campus, i noticed that most girls pursuing this course were the people i used to defeat. I Somehow felt demeaned and i immediately thought of choosing something that was a bit complex for my mind. "So i took up medicine," she explains.
Despite reading not being her favorite pass time, Peninah says the transition was smooth. She finished her Medicine degree in 1984 and in 1987 enrolled for a Master’s degree in paediatrics at the University of Nairobi.
In 1994, she enrolled for another Master’s degree in dermatology and venereology at the Medical School in the University of Vienna, Austria.
“I love challenging myself and I thought it was fascinating to be equipped with all this knowledge,” she says.
With a lucrative CV like hers, once she was done with her studies, it was easy to get a job. She was absorbed at Kenyatta National Hospital where she has been for the last 30 years.
She is one of only six dermatologists who work in public service. She also consults in different hospitals, including Mater Hospital, Gertrude’s Children Hospital and Nairobi Hospital among others.
From the interview, it is clear that she passionate about babies. “I love children and when I see them playing, it gives me a certain kind of fulfillment. Some people get annoyed when they are around children, but for me, it is no bother,” says the pediatrician.
She is equally passionate about skincare and offers free advice to women: “Some of these products that women use have chemicals that can cause irreversible damage on the skin,” she warns.
She plans to continue practicing pediatrics and dermatology even after her retirement.
“This is my life and calling. I will keep doing it even after in retirement. It fulfills me,” she says with passion.
“Women should pursue dermatology. We do not have enough dermatologists in Kenya yet there are so many people who need the expertise of such specialists.”
I enjoy medicine, but my family comes first
Busy as she may be, Dr. Peninah is a wife, a mother and a grandmother. She has effortlessly balanced these roles over the years.
“I have three grown-up children — two boys and one girl. They all have careers but none of them took up medicine. I prioritised and planned my schedule and made sure I had time for my children. I picked them from school every day.”
She says she made sure she never lost touch with them because of her career.
“It is all about time management, prioritizing and a little planning. When my children were younger, I had to plan my day to ensure I am done with my activities by 5 pm when my maternal instincts would kick in and I forget about Medicine. I had to leave the office in time to beat traffic to pick my children from school,” she explains.
Dr Peninah is also a proud grandmother of four and often stays with her grandchildren during the school holidays. Her deliberate effort to make time for her grandchildren is evident during the interview. Her grandson and the oldest of all her grandchildren rush her to finish the interview. She reveals that they indeed had plans and he felt the interview was getting in the way.
“We have plans to do something with him later,” she says.
She admits that despite her busy schedule, she is not one to take time off and just stay at home.
“I prefer to be busy with something. When I am not practicing Medicine, then I am involved in some activity. I have joined several groups; I am the chairperson of the Precious Blood Kilungu Secondary School Old Girls Association, which raises and pays school fees for poor students in the school,” she says.
She is also an honorary lecturer at both the University of Nairobi and the Kenya Medical Training College. She is also involved in reviewing and guiding post-graduate doctors on their projects.