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Global Surgeon Spotlight: An Interview with Professor Barasa Otsyula

Monday, May 15, 2023

During a recent visit to Moi University in Eldoret, Kenya, Dr. Mimi Ceppa met key stakeholders for a potential expansion of a multidisciplinary esophageal and thoracic surgery program in relation to the Academic Model as a Pathway to Healthcare (AMPATH) program. This consortium of North American universities, led by the Indiana University School of Global Health, partners with Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital and other international sites. 

Dr. Emily Farkas is currently leading an advancement of the cardiac surgery program at Moi through AMPATH thanks to a supportive grant from the Thoracic Surgery Foundation and Edwards Lifesciences Foundation. 

Professor Otsyula is integral to both initiatives. In this conversation with Dr. Ceppa, he recollects stories from his fascinating time as a leader in Kenyan medicine. 

Additional Background

Professor Barasa Otsyula is an eminent cardiothoracic surgeon and highly accomplished academic leader in Kenya. His father, Yona Otsyula, was one of the first East Africans to graduate from medical school during British colonial rule in East Africa, and he ultimately left an impressive legacy of offspring that have ultimately served as health care workers—particularly physicians—and scientists.

Prof. Otsyula received his medical school diploma in 1975 from the University of Nairobi. After also completing general surgery training in Nairobi, he was then sponsored by the Kenyan government to enter cardiothoracic surgery training in Birmingham, England, where he trained from 1981 to 1984. Acceding to his parents’ wishes, he returned to Kenya and worked as an academic cardiothoracic surgeon in Nairobi from 1984 to 1992. During that time, Kenya’s second medical school was being established at Moi University, and in 1992 Professor Otsyula was recruited to Eldoret to become the Head of the Department of Surgery at Moi University and a consultant surgeon at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital. He was a major force in establishing a very strong academic and clinical program that ultimately resulted in the development of training programs in general surgery, orthopedics, anesthesiology, and other programs.

In 1999, Prof. Otsyula was appointed Dean of Moi University’s school of medicine, a position he held for six years. His leadership brought remarkable growth to the academic, clinical, and research programs. Three impressive accomplishments include securing funding and overseeing construction of new operating theatres for Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, helping establish the AMPATH program—a renowned HIV/AIDS program that now also emphasizes treatment of chronic diseases, and launching the first residency programs in Eldoret—with the first being in family medicine. 

Prof. Otsyula has also served in many other major roles in his distinguished career such as dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences at Kenya Methodist University, multiple leadership roles on the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentist Council, the Kenya Medical Association, and various East African medical societies. He has helped build cardiothoracic surgery programs and training, public health programs, and has also participated in various clinical and research programs, including on esophageal cancer. He has been a mentor and advisor to countless medical trainees at all levels, including medical students, medical officers, residents, junior colleagues, and more.

Prof. Otsyula is married to Dr. Mary Otsyula, who has also served on the faculty of Moi University, and they have been blessed with three children. He has many hobbies and interests outside of medicine, and those who know him well will tell you he is very passionate about farming and raising livestock—especially cows!


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