Founding a charity
Winner of “Junior doctor of the year” in the BMJ Group awards
While he was a medical student at Nottingham University in 2001, Dan co-founded the Kenyan Orphan Project (with Beccy Leslie and Owain Evans), a global child health charity supporting the health and education of orphaned children in Africa. Now a specialist trainee in paediatrics, Dan is unit lead for maternal and child health on the International Health BSc at the University of Bristol, and a member of the International Child Health Group Committee. He is currently doing a masters degree in epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
How did it feel to win the title “Junior doctor of the year” last year? And what has the award meant for you?
You never feel that what you do is worthy of recognition. I thought it would be one of the other two finalists. And then when they read out my name I was gobsmacked. To get any recognition, not just for me but for the other trustees of the charity and all the people I’m lucky to work with, was really nice. For months afterwards I was in a haze—a “did that really happen to me?” kind of thing.
The award helped to cement my commitment to wanting to push forward a global child health agenda—not just in my personal and professional life but through the networks and the links that I’m already in. In a way receiving the award validates our efforts, and it spurs you on. You think, “If people think what I’ve been doing so far is a good idea, then by God I’m going to push on with that.”
What inspired you to go from learning about global child health to taking action while you were still at medical school?
In 2000-1 the global health movement in medical schools was starting to gain momentum. We were very aware of global health inequalities. Here was this capable group of people—bright, enthusiastic, energetic, and easy to mobilise, and we knew we weren’t the only ones who felt that way. There was a chap in our year who grew up in Kenya and was sponsored to go to school through a government run programme. He was the person we first spoke to. We were speaking about grassroots changes, talking to somebody from one of the communities we’re still working in today.
Where do you see the Kenyan Orphan Project (KOP) going?
We are committed to trying to support and improve life for the orphaned and vulnerable children in Kenya. What we want to do is to make sure there’s a sound evidence base for the programmes (including education, foster care, and nutrition) that we’re running. That means incorporating scientific elements within the programme, to make sure we are achieving the greatest efficacy in what we’re trying to do. We’ve got an ethical duty to do that, and if we’re not doing it, then we should be supporting a charity that is.
When you first set up KOP did you have any idea of the impact it would have?
No, we were a couple of medical students chasing a dream. Every time we talk about it there’s a part of us that has to pinch ourselves about where we’ve come in 10 years. We were 22 medical students in that first year, with no real plans to expand. Now we have 14 medical schools represented in the programme that we’re running in Kenya. We have also maintained the ethos that has been so special to us, making sure we’re still fighting every step of the way to do what’s right by the children we support. But also to do that in the most appropriate way, so that we can make the biggest difference we can.
As you’ve grown as a doctor, has KOP and its objectives grown with you?
I think that’s fair to say. A good example of that is the student (volunteer) programme we’re running. At first it was medical students getting together, and over the past 10 years we’ve focused on developing the student programme concept into formal education, reinforcing the fact that we’re not trying to propagate the myth that medical students are the best people to go and build a hospital.
What advice would you give to medical students who want to get involved in global health?
I think it is about making a difference, and people should want to make a difference, but it’s important to acknowledge the most appropriate ways to do so, whether it’s through a global health BSc or through things like Medsin (the medical students’ national network).
There are huge options for students, and one size shouldn’t fit all. Some students might want to be involved with advocacy and others with physically going to a place. I’m an advocate of being involved in whatever capacity you can. We’re working very hard to get global health in the undergraduate curriculum for all students. Last year we launched an online global health module that is available to all students through KOP.
I think even if you don’t ever want to work in a developing or middle income country, global health is an issue for everybody, not just for people who want to make a difference.
Where do you find the time to do so much?
First it’s about being passionate about what you do. It’s been difficult, it’s been tiring, but it’s never felt like something I didn’t want to do. How do you physically make the time? Yes you need to be organised, but it’s less about you and more about the people you work and live with. For example, in the Severn Deanery where I’ve been doing my paediatric training, they’ve been hugely supportive. When I’ve needed to go to Kenya for meetings, when I’ve needed to take time out to do conferences or teach on the global health BSc, I’ve been lucky enough to juggle that with the help of very supportive consultants and supervisors. I also have an extremely supportive and understanding wife. I have had to make some sacrifices. Most of my annual leave for the last however many years has been taken up with going to Kenya, but that doesn’t feel like a chore. I get to go and meet wonderful people, spend time with inspiring colleagues, and see the world.
Competing interests: None declared.
Provenance and peer review: Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.
Cite this as: Student BMJ 2011;19:d7546