Dr Claire Karekezi was born on July 4th 1982, in Butare, Rwanda. Her father, Mr Karekezi, was a telecommunications officer. And her mother, Mrs Musine Karekezi, was a high school teacher. She is the first and only female neurosurgeon in Rwanda, a country of 13 million people. She has been a consultant at the Rwandan Military Hospital in Kigali since 2018.
As a child, Dr Karekezi’s love of the sciences made her desire to work for NASA as an astronaut. But after high school, her interest turned to medicine.
Her success serves as an inspiration for people interested in neurosurgery. Today, Dr Claire supports women in neurosurgery and is one of six neurosurgeons in Rwanda.
The Journey of Dr Claire Karekezi
Dr Claire and her siblings got their early education in Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda. In sixth grade, she switched her high school major to mathematics. She also majored in physics as she had an interest in science.
The ethnic conflict and Rwandan genocide happened when she was ten years old. For safety, her family fled the capital city. But, Dr Claire Karekezi completed high school in Kigali in 2001. She did that despite the genocide interrupting her education.
After graduating with honours, she pursued general medicine in Butare at the University of Rwanda College of Medicine and Health Sciences. She graduated as a doctor in March 2009. Still, in Butare, Dr Karekezi watched a video on neurosurgery, which altered her life trajectory.
She took part in an expert medical exchange program in Sweden in 2007. The International Federation of Medical Student Associations (IFMSA) sponsored the program. While in that program, she met professor Jan Hillman who significantly influenced her decision to be a neurosurgeon. He became her mentor.
In 2011 Dr Claire Karekezi undertook a residency in Morocco at the Rabat Reference Center—a centre for Training Young African Neurosurgeons. The Reference Center is at the Mohamed V University of Rabat. She spent five years here until 2016 when she completed her residency.
She went to Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a Harvard Medical Center Teaching Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. While there, she served as the international visiting surgeon fellow. A duty from the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.
After serving, she finished her clinical residency in neuro-oncology and skull base surgery at the University of Toronto. And she also worked at Toronto Western Hospital before returning to Rwanda in 2018.
In addition to her skill as a surgeon, Dr Claire Karekezi received the Women in Neurosurgery award in 2013, given by her coworker at Toronto Western Hospital gave her the award.
Dr Claire Karekezi left Toronto in December 2018 after finishing her work there. Not limited by gender or race, she returned to Rwanda to serve her nation and continent. She not only practices as a neurosurgeon but also spreads the word on the value of neurosurgery to Africans and the dire scarcity of neurosurgeons in Africa.
Life And Mission As A Neurosurgeon
Dr Claire Karekezi was the first neurosurgeon to undertake neurosurgery surgeries at the Rwanda Military Hospital(RMH). Starting her practice in Rwanda’s public health system comes with challenges. From lack of equipment to lack of surgical staff.
However, in her first few months at RMH, she ensured she built a proper neurosurgery unit. And she began by hiring the required surgical staff and equipment.
There are still fewer women in Neurosurgery than men in the world. She is committed to improving mentoring and aiding her female coworkers and future generations.
Dr Claire Karekezi also led many studies on history. The story was about women in neurosurgery and their present status in Africa. She emphasizes that there are no easy victories. And that each step has challenges to overcome.
To crown it all, she was chair of the African Women in Neurosurgery (AWIN) in 2019. It is a Continental Association of African Neurosurgical Societies (CAANS) section.
Currently (for 2022–2026), she is the bureau Secretary of the Rwanda Medical and Dental Council (RMDC) national council.