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WiL – GH Series: Florence Kinder in conversation with Dr Lucy Obolensky, Future Health Africa

Women in Leadership – Global Health Series: Florence Kinder in conversation with Dr Lucy Obolensky, Future Health Africa Founder

Dr Lucy Obolensky

A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate to speak with Dr Lucy Obolensky as part of the Women in Leadership – Global Health series. I stumbled across Dr Obolensky when researching elective options and inspired by her career and research, reached out in the hope she might join the series.

Me in a ‘socially distanced’ canteen in a hospital in the depths of the Yorkshire dales and Lucy hundreds of miles south, we begin our conversation lamenting the struggles of planning humanitarian electives in Covid, moving swiftly to the ethical implications so often associated with overseas electives but also the enormity of learning that comes from such pursuits… the vital message that resource-poor does not equal knowledge-poor.

So tell me how it all began…

I was still at medical school when I first started out, it was around 2000 when I first began setting up clinics. I worked for a conservation organisation in Kenya. It was a time when HIV AIDS was rife and there was a somewhat ‘not our problem’ attitude. Perhaps this is a good example of female leadership, the board was entirely male and there I was a young female, trying to promote the benefit of setting up a health system that looked not just after their immediate workforces but also the local community. We took a very much ‘grassroots approach’, working with the conservancy team to set up a small local laboratory testing that could test and treat a range of diseases.  And slowly but surely, we began to see the positive impact of delivery primary health care, not just for their workforce but for the wider community; improved health led to less poaching in the area. The organisation became real advocates for these initiatives, a true example that ‘health brings wealth’.

You’ve moved to a much bigger scale now with Future Health Africa…

We began around 2009 in Kenya, I was an orthopaedic SHO at the time and had spent time in the surgical department at Nanyuki District Hospital, so we began in orthopaedic trauma. Like before we started small, driven by an amazing local surgeon Dr Ndanya, we aimed to help reduce the trauma burden in the local region. We’ve grown organically over the years, now with 8 streams ranging from Trauma, Quality Improvement  to community education and development.

It is vital Global Health work is sustainable, how does Future Health Africa work towards that…

Go where you’re invited, not where you want to go. I think one of  the key things has been matching our team to the needs of the team overseas, creating a diverse MDT. Also, recognising the importance of training, we don’t measure our outcomes and impact in terms of numbers of trauma patients seen but more so in recognising indicators like improvements to patient safety and increased training for staff.

I’m adamant that one day we’ll stop talking about ‘female’ leaders, but for now…

I guess looking back, similar to my beginnings, I was a young female trying to persuade senior hospital managers to change their entire system. Trauma, specifically motorbike accidents were a big issue. Care was provided on a ‘pay at the point of access’, meaning patients often faced long waits in hospital whilst families tried to get funds together to pay for treatment. I was proposing you reverse this, operate on the day of injury – improve patient outcomes, reduce length of hospital stay, facilitate quicker returns to work and allow patients or their families to pay after and likely quicker. Communication and understanding are vital when trying to make change though, regardless of who you are. Respect must be both earned and given, regardless of who you are.

And finally, what advise do you have to encourage those hoping to follow in your footsteps…

Take every opportunity you come across, but also don’t be afraid to ask, reach out when the opportunity isn’t there. Think about what you want to do, where you want to go and how a career back home can fit with that e.g. broad specialities like A&E or GP. Also, seek out mentors, those who both challenge and inspire you.



Lucy Obolensky is an expedition medic, locum GP and Emergency Department doctor. She is the Programme lead for the Global Health Masters at Plymouth University and founder of the charity Future Health Africa. She is a  strong advocate for Global Health education in all health professions.



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