Dr Kanyenje Gakombe is the chief executive officer of Metropolitan Hospital in Nairobi’s Buruburu estate. While most of his age mates are grappling with technology, the 50-year-old doctor has embraced it with a few innovations to his name. He had a chat with ESTHER KIRAGU about running the hospital he established 21 years ago; on being tech-savvy, as well as his personal and family life.
It is 7:30am on a Monday morning. A doctor working at Metropolitan Hospital receives a text message reminding him that he is expected at the hospital in 30 minutes. At 7:50am the doctor clocks into the hospital through the biometric system that immediately acknowledges him and thanks him for being early to work. It is this system that will recognise him and subsequently allow him to get his 10 o’clock tea. The doctor has an appointment with a patient at 11:30am and the automated system sends a short text message (SMS) to the patient prior, reminding her of her doctor’s appointment. This is how ICT savvy Metropolitan Hospital has been for the last 10 years.
“One of the things we found very difficult to do over the years was to run a hospital with manual documents. And so we tried to purchase some software and found that with time we needed more and more software and it was becoming an expensive affair. So we built a medical software company where we sell software to other medical institutions in Kenya and Uganda,” explains Dr Gakombe who sits at the helm of the hospital.
With this ICT suaveness, the hospital is able to map patients and hospital admissions by the minute as well as activities in each department hence enhance efficiency and quality. Dr Gakombe says the next phase is to get to clinical intelligence so that tests meant for women are not done on men and vice-versa. He designs the software and passes it on to the IT department for development and test-runs.
Journey towards becoming a doctor…
Admittedly, Dr Gakombe always loved writing and even thought he would become an author at some point. “I grew up in the coffee region of Murang’a and school was a great place to be as it took me away from the backbreaking job of coffee picking, which I disliked and vowed to get myself out of. Books provided me with an opportunity to dream big as I got to know there was a whole world out there for me,” he says. Subsequently, he did very well in primary education and got admission at Mang’u High School.
At high school, he enjoyed both sciences and arts and was particularly good in English language. However, being good in both sciences and arts meant that he had an array of career choices to make. At the time, there wasn’t much information about a writing career and having attended a school that focussed more on sciences, it was only a matter of time before he found himself leaning towards the sciences. He then joined the University of Nairobi to study medicine, which he found very tough at the beginning but he didn’t give up.
He learnt to take up responsibilities early and as a first year university student, he was already paying school fees for some of his siblings. “During the holidays, I took up menial jobs to earn some pocket money including a job on a construction site and matatu touting,” he says and adds that although some people looked down on him, he kept his head high aware that this was just a temporary phase of life.
A double university intake in 1988 meant that regular students would attend classes for six months and then take a six months break to allow other students come in during the holidays. Dr Gakombe took the break as an opportunity to find a job.
“I got employed at a stock broking company in Nairobi during the six-months break, a job that provided me with networks that came in handy when I wanted to establish Metropolitan Hospital. My boss at the stock exchange company introduced me to a businessman who gave me some of his money to invest for him in the stock market. He got good returns on it. When I graduated and decided to establish Metropolitan Hospital, the businessman lent me some working capital by virtue of the rapport we had formed,” he explains and adds that he has since learnt that in life no experience is wasted as eventually it all works for your good.
Running and managing a hospital…
As a testament that no one is too young to lead, Dr Gakombe became the CEO of Metropolitan Hospital at the age of 29. He recalls the hustle he went through to convince banks to lend him money to buy land and put up the hospital. When the banks didn’t come through for him, he approached potential investors with the concept of a hospital providing quality and affordable healthcare system, and they plugged into it by buying shares, which helped him raise enough capital. Today the hospital has 500 shareholders from all walks of life as investors.
As a CEO, he says he has learnt to balance managing costs while ensuring patients are given the best medical care. His has been a for profit organisation that is keen on giving patients affordable healthcare. As a manager, he says his biggest challenge is that of integrating the different professions within the hospital including nurses and doctors, among others, in order to work towards a common goal – the patient’s needs.
Looking back over the 21 years the hospital has been in existence, Dr Gakombe admits he underestimated how capital intensive hospitals are as one has to have state-of-the-art equipment and a well-trained staff 24 hours, every day of the year, to handle whatever emergencies arise. Currently, the Metropolitan Hospital has an 86-bed capacity and treats about 5,000 outpatients and admits about 300 others each month.
The hospital is big on ICT and as such they have over the years created online systems that allow them to run the hospital paperless. The hospital is currently expanding and its vision remains to have a Metropolitan Hospital in each county in Kenya. True to the vision, plans are already underway to start three hospitals in three different counties in the next one year. Dr Gakombe is also keen about mentoring his staff to take up leadership roles in the hospital in order to have a strong institution with a smooth leadership transition.
A family man…
Dr Gakombe has been married for 29 years to Joyce Gakombe, a veterinary doctor. The couple has two sons and an additional two adopted boys whom they support. “My son came from school with two of his friends from poor backgrounds. One of them requested that I become his dad, as his is an absentee and I took him in. I support the other one although he lives independently,” he says adding that the two boys are now in university and it is an honour to be a father to them.
He and his wife were involved in creating the National Autistic Society of Kenya to provide information, support and services, and campaign for a better world for autistic people. They have a son with autism.
“I recall people trying to apportion blame perhaps in a bid to understand why my son is autistic. Finding and accessing suitable schools for him was a challenge, as well as trying to figure out and understand his needs because communication is a challenge for autistic children. There are also emerging issues as he recently developed epileptic fits, although the fits are now pretty much under control,” he expounds on the challenges of raising a child with special needs.
Despite these challenges, Dr Gakombe and his wife say they are grateful to have their son, as many people would love to have children but are not able to. His advice to parents with children who have special needs is to first accept them, and not to hide them from the public.
When he is not working, Dr Gakombe enjoys reading and mentoring young people. He is also passionate about social causes and served for six years at the National Economic and Social Council, Kenya’s top advisory body to the government on policies required to accelerate social and economic development of the country.
As we conclude this interview, his word of encouragement to others is: “I have learnt that in life despite the challenging situations you may face, if you look hard enough, there will be a lesson and an opportunity to transform the challenge into something greater as long as you do not give up.”
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Published June 2016