Spotlight on Dr. Awa Jah – The Gambia’s First Home-Trained Specialist in Obstetrics and Gynaecology

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Dr. Awa Jah

By: Awa Conteh 

Welcome, curious minds, to another thrilling Women in STEM column episode! In this episode, we are privileged to introduce you to the incredible Dr. Awa Jah, a name synonymous with pioneering spirit in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Her journey is a roadmap to empowerment, and her story celebrates relentless ambition.

In a world where societal expectations and limited resources often confine dreams, Dr. Awa Jah emerged as the first Gambian home-trained specialist in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, and her story is nothing short of extraordinary. 

She embodies resilience, dedication, and the unwavering spirit of a woman who dared to dream. Join us as we explore the incredible trajectory of her career, her relentless pursuit of knowledge, and her impact on the field of medicine and the lives of countless women. Dr. Jah’s story is not just about breaking barriers; it’s about setting new standards of excellence.

Dr Awa Jah embarked on a path illuminated by a thirst for knowledge and a determination that shone brighter than the Gambian sun. Her voyage began in the quaint classrooms of Bundung Primary School, where each chalkboard lesson marked a step toward her dreams. From there, she navigated the corridors of St. Theresa’s Upper Basic School before finding her way into Nusrat High School, her youthful curiosity a compass guiding her way.

Sometimes, dreams take unexpected turns, leading to discovering uncharted passions. Such was the journey of Dr. Jah, who aspired to be an engineer. When the coveted admission letter from Kumasi Technical University in Ghana finally arrived after high school, it felt like the dawn of a lifelong dream. Yet, the heavy veil of financial constraints cast a shadow over her ambitions, and scholarships, like distant stars, remained elusive. Undeterred by adversity, she embarked on a unique path, enrolling at the University of The Gambia while she awaited the scholarship that would lead her to engineering. But life, with its twists and turns, had a different plan. As she delved more profound, the art of healing captured her heart. The waiting period became a transformative journey of discovery, and she realized that her dreams were not confined to a single path. 

She fell deeply in love with medicine, its intricate science, and its profound human connection. When the scholarship she had once yearned for finally arrived after two years, her heart had found a new calling. She had unwittingly embarked on a different but equally profound adventure that would shape her destiny as a future doctor.

Young Awa began the grandest chapter of her voyage at the University of The Gambia Medical School. In the halls of the medical school, Dr. Jah nurtured dreams of becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon. However, during her internship, a phase where the real world of medicine unfolded before her, her path took an unexpected twist. As she delved into the intricacies of clinical practice, she became acutely aware of a profound truth—the significance of women’s health. The weight of maternal mortalities and morbidities pressed heavily on her heart, and she felt a compelling urge to make a difference in this field. The passion for women’s health began to propel her through the long hours and demanding workload that came with the profession. 

After seven years, her journey proceeded with a two-year internship at the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital (EFSTH), where she stepped into the role of a medical officer in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, welcoming new lives into the world and provided solace to those in need. But she didn’t stop there. 

In 2017, she embarked on a new challenge, pursuing her primaries with the esteemed Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons, proving her commitment to excellence. Her quest reached a climax when she began her residency in obstetrics and gynecology at EFSTH under the supervision of the West African College of Surgeons. Every day was a fresh page, each procedure a brush stroke on the canvas of her career. 

In 2021, Dr. Jah accomplished something that will go down in Gambian medical history as a watershed moment. She became the first home-trained expert in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, inspiring aspiring female doctors nationwide. Amidst the fatigue and the odd hours, she found a wellspring of energy within her. Each day, she awakened with a sense of purpose, ready to face the challenges that awaited. Amid it all, she discovered that her chosen profession was not just a career but an odyssey of empathy, compassion, and profound human connection. Witnessing a woman in the throes of labour, her voice a crescendo of pain, was a sight that would leave most hearts heavy. But for Dr. Jah, it was a moment of profound beauty.

“I am passionate about women’s health, so with the heavy workload and odd hours, I still had the energy to wake up every day and go to work. The profession is one of the best and most fulfilling in the world. Seeing a woman screaming her brains out because of the excruciating pain of labour and seeing all that pain replaced with the most beautiful smile after hearing her baby cry is a priceless moment”, she said.  

Throughout her career, Dr. Jah has seen cases that have deepened her understanding of the crucial relevance of women’s healthcare and fuelled her commitment to this area. Those regarding maternal mortality have been the most poignant and trying among these encounters. It is not simply the loss of a woman’s life that is devastating; it is the ripple effect that affects the entire family, particularly her children. Maternal mortality has far-reaching implications, according to extensive studies. Newborns and children left behind are frequently malnourished and have inadequate access to vital healthcare. Older siblings are forced to drop out of school to care for their younger siblings, taking on obligations beyond their years and, in some cases, migrating for better chances. Maternal death typically causes family disintegration, straining relationships within homes, and pushing already limited financial resources to their limits. These encounters have reaffirmed our trailblazer’s unshakable dedication to women’s healthcare, understanding that her actions save lives and safeguard the well-being and future of families and communities.

Mentorship has played an important role in Dr. Jah’s path as a woman in this challenging industry, both as a mentee and mentor, significantly contributing to her professional advancement. She was lucky to find a loving environment with dedicated mentors when she entered the area of obstetrics and gynecology. Their advice, persistent support, and dedication to pushing her to become a better doctor aided her progress. They shared their expertise and successfully paved the way for her to negotiate this specialized profession’s complexity. 

She has also embraced the role of being a mentor, particularly for young females aiming for professions in STEM, after experiencing the significant influence of mentorship in her own life. Dr. Jah believes in pointing them in the right direction, knowing that the journey will be difficult but emphasizing perseverance. Mentorship has not only accelerated her professional development but has also enabled her to pay it forward by inspiring the next generation of women in STEM to pursue their goals with resilience and tenacity.

Considering how underrepresented women are in obstetrics and gynecology, encouraging more women to pursue careers in obstetrics, gynecology, and STEM fields necessitates establishing platforms highlighting these fields’ significance in shaping a better world. 

As a member of Women in STEM in The Gambia, Dr Jah has witnessed the transformative impact of such initiatives first-hand. By sensitizing and mentoring young girls to the opportunities and importance of STEM, these platforms plant the seeds of ambition early on. By fostering a supportive community and showcasing the real-world impact of their contributions, she believes more women can be inspired to embrace the fields of obstetrics, gynecology, and STEM, ultimately creating a more inclusive and innovative future.

“More women can be encouraged to pursue careers in STEM by creating platforms where girls can see the importance of STEM in creating a better world. I am a member of Women in STEM in the Gambia, and they are doing a great job sensitizing and providing mentorship programs for girls in STEM”, she told TAT. 

Dr. Jah’s unwavering dedication to her field, her pioneering spirit, and her compassionate approach to medicine serve as a beacon of inspiration for all. Her story reminds us that in the world of STEM, the sky is not the limit; it’s just the beginning. As we celebrate Dr. Awa Jah and her ground-breaking achievements, we are reminded that the future of STEM is being written by women who dare to dream, persevere through challenges, and make the world a better place—one innovation at a time. Stay tuned for more stories illuminating the path of women in STEM, each one evidence of the incredible power of resilience and passion.

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