He quit a well-paying job to study medicine at UCU

By Irene Best Nyapendi
At Mukwano Industries, Uganda, Joel Semakula was the employee of the year, earned a promotion, and had a salary boost on the way. But his true love was elsewhere. 

After completing secondary school, he had his sights on medicine. However, he did not make it to the shortlist to study it at Makerere University. So, he thought of studying bio medical laboratory technology with a plan of upgrading to medicine later on, but this too was not possible. He settled for chemical engineering at Kyambogo University.

Once he graduated, he got a job with Mukwano, where he excelled and was recognized as employee of the year in 2018.  At that and with his heart elsewhere, he turned down a promotion and resigned.

“I always saw myself practicing medicine, and I will even do it when I am past retirement age,” he says.

The busy work schedule at Mukwano was a roadblock to studying in the demanding field of medicine. He got his savings and requested his parents to support him further to pursue the course he loves. 

Semakula (left) poses for a photo with his lecturer (center) and classmates after an oncology lecture.
Semakula (left) poses for a photo with his lecturer (center) and classmates after an oncology lecture.

“My mother believed in me and together with my family, they supported me,” he says.

He tried several times to get a vacancy at Makerere University with no success. This, however, did not break his resolve. 

To Semakula, he loves the life-saving work doctors do because it is like working together with God to give people a second chance at life. God finally answered his prayers when he applied at Uganda Christian University (UCU).

“When I heard about UCU School of Medicine, I applied and was so happy when I passed the interviews,” he says. “My mouth was filled with laughter.”

Now in his fourth year, with one more year to go, Semakula says he finds fulfillment in his work. 

“There’s satisfaction when you alleviate someone else’s suffering,” he says.

He recalls a time in year three, during junior clerkship when he answered a mother’s queries about her child’s health and the next day the woman returned asking for Semakula because she was so pleased with his services.

Semakula is determined to be an excellent surgeon. He is further encouraged by his lecturer, Dr. Mwanje Bright Anderson, who inspires him by the way he handles patients, relating to each. 

One day during a bedside teaching session at Mulago Hospital, the instructing specialist defined a surgeon as the world’s best physician who sometimes operates. 

“This stuck with me. I had simply wanted to become a surgeon, but it dawned on me that one ought to be an equally excellent physician to make a good surgeon,” he says.

Semakula joined UCU to study a course he loves, but has since fallen in love with its culture and values as well.

“At first, there was nothing particularly attractive about the school that drew me in, because I didn’t know much about it other than the widely known fact that UCU produced brilliant lawyers. But I was optimistic this would become the case with medicine,” Semakula says.

Joel Semakula’s certificate of recognition
Joel Semakula’s certificate of recognition

He confesses that the study of medicine is as tough as he imagined, but he has accepted the task because as professional doctors, they need to get everything right. He emphasizes that the oath doctors take of doing no harm to lives requires them to get it right during training.

“I have to make it, there’s no other option. I push on mostly for me, then because there are people who believe in me and importantly for the people I will serve (my patients) eventually,” Semakula vows.

Semakula is passionate about humanity and care for others. He is concerned about doctors who tend to prioritize money-making at the expense of compassionate service. He has pledged to be a good doctor that puts medical care above financial rewards. He is hopeful that when he has made good money, he will channel some into financing affordable health care for all. 

“I hope to stay true to my convictions and influence others to see the same,” he says, almost as a prayer.