Full Name: Immaculate Opondo A. BDS MDS (UON)
pediatric dental surgeon
Current residence: Kisumu
Current employer: Maseno university
“However small the mouth seems, oral health can never be overlooked…” is a typical statement by Dr. Immaculate Opondo, especially when she addresses her dental health Medical Students of Maseno University. “… you might think it’s easy but no, it is quite complicated for such a confined space,” she would continue.
Her students describe her as passionate, zealous, caring and loving . “She shows interest in each one of us at a very personal level and she is very easy to approach and talk to,” narrates Brian, one of her students. “She is so good a teacher that she knew all our names within one week of rotating in Dentistry,” exclaimed Laura.
theDoctor managed to catch up with the only dental specialist in the entire region at her clinic in Tom Mboya Estate. Located within the leafy, chilled out Estate, the clinic provides a calming, healing effect to all who visit. Maybe by design. Inside Advanced Care Dental Center compound, is a not very small building surrounded by beautiful trees that give an instant home feeling.
To a keen eye, the inside the clinic gives the direct impression of a well-organized practice. The waiting area just in front of the reception is furnished with comfortable couches with stuffed animals lying on them. Newspapers, magazines and a TV set on the wall probably give the patients a brief relief from their tooth aches as they wait in line. Dr. Opondo’s certificates and licenses are carefully framed and arranged around the wall at the reception area. A glaring CCTV camera in one corner keeps you disciplined, lest you be caught on camera acting funny.
After about 20 minutes of waiting, Dr. Opondo comes out of one of the dental rooms with her last patient of the day. It is a scene to behold. It had to be one of the best patient-doctor interactions I have witnessed so far. the patient is a young girl about 7 or 8 years accompanied by her father. They are all smiling and laughing the child is holding Dr. Opondo’s hand and is very free with her as a mother would be with a child. They high five and hug as Dr. Opondo hands the father a prescription and gives the final post op instructions. I’m even more surprised as the child promises to come back! To a doctor!
We sat down for our one on one in her equally eye pleasing office and this is how it went down;
theDoctor: This is quite a beautiful place you have, nice work designing it.
Dr. Opondo: (smiling) thank you, it was actually designed by my husband, he’s an interior designer.
theDoctor: ooh! That’s nice, please tell me a little more about the clinic.
Dr. Opondo: well, my clinic is called Advanced Care dental center, it started operating in July 2016. I have three dental chairs, but only two are functional at the moment. We have two dental assistants, so that at any given time, two surgeries can run simultaneously. There is one receptionist and a record keeper.
theDoctor: So, you are the only dental surgeon at the clinic.
Dr. Opondo: Yes, on permanent basis I am, but I also allow other dental surgeons to come and locum here if they want to.
theDoctor: any future plans you have for the clinic…
Dr. Opondo: well, there is always room for growth and expansion, but honestly, I would love to see more children. You see I’m a pediatric dentist and it makes sense for me to be seeing children more. Now I get both adults and children, but I would love to see more children and if possible be purely pediatric.
theDoctor: Wouldn’t that limit you? I mean are there as many children with dental problems?
Dr. Opondo: you would be surprised. They are so many. Right from birth a child can have dental problems. The only challenge is awareness and education, if our people were made more aware f the importance of dental health, especially in children, then we would be seeing way more patients.
And in fact, pediatric health does not only deal with children as such, we are also trained to handle patients who are medically and developmentally compromised.
theDoctor: Ooh! I didn’t know that. So, did you always want to be a pediatric dentist? Or a dentist for that matter.
Dr. Opondo: No. actually no. growing up my whole life I wanted to be a doctor.
theDoctor: Really! Then what changed your mind?
Dr. Opondo: It’s a long story.
Dr. Opondo: you see, my inspiration to become a doctor was from my aunt, who was a support staff in a hospital, but I thought she was a doctor because she would come with syringes and needles and boil them, and inject us when we had malaria. I liked what she did, and I wanted to become just like her. Then later I realized that I she was not a doctor, and I thought maybe she was a nurse…
theDoctor: so, you shifted to nursing?
Dr. Opondo: No, I actually told myself “I don’t want to be a nurse, I want to be a doctor.” Then later, when I realized that she was not even a nurse, the seed had already been planted. All through high school I maintained my dream of being a doctor. The problem came when it was time to select and apply for courses, then I realized there were so many options: there was dentistry, there was pharmacy…
I had been hearing stories (which were true actually) that medical students had to handle “dead people” and that really scared me at the time. So I thought that maybe if I chose dentistry I wouldn’t have to deal with that. So that’s why I changed: only to be shocked that we were doing the same anatomy as medical students and I still had to handle the cadavers.
theDoctor: did you try to change back to medicine.
Opondo: yes, yes I did. But at the time in my class I was the only lady, so the support for me to change was not really there so I ended up sticking in Dentistry and here I am and I love it.
theDoctor: So how was dental school for you?
Dr. Opondo: Dental school was not easy, we had a lot of requirements to meet with very strict lecturers. The training was quite stressful and to survive you needed to first of all develop a thick skin, and then work hard to meet all the requirements. Of course, there were moments when we had a little a fun. We joined medical school with the likes of Dr. Victor Njom and Dr Tobias Otieno.
theDoctor: when did you graduate?
Dr. Opondo: I joined in 1994, September and graduated in 1999 in December.
theDoctor: wow! You have practiced for quite a while. Where have you worked so far?
Dr. Opondo: well, I did my internship at KNH in the year 2000. And you know how busy and diverse Kenyatta is. Then from there I was posted to Machakos as a dental surgeon in Kathiani sub-district hospital. I worked there for two years before I was posted back to Nairobi, because of family matters.
theDoctor: Where did you work in Nairobi.
Opondo: I worked in many capacities in Nairobi, first of all I was working in a LOCO dispensary at railways in Nairobi. It was a beautiful clinic in a locomotive only that it wasn’t moving. Then in 2006 I moved from loco and started doing administrative work, I was the District medical officer in Makadara district back in the day when we had districts.
So there I was in charge of all the health services in the region, I was answerable for all the facilities, the patients etc. I did that for some time, until I decided that it was enough and I wanted to go back to dentistry and improve myself, so I enrolled for my master’s degree in Pediatric dentistry in Nairobi university in 2008. That took 3 years and when I finished I decided to move out of Nairobi to the periphery.
theDoctor: So, you came to Kisumu.
Dr. Opondo: yes, I was posted to JOOTRH after my Masters in 2011. Because you realize there are very few specialists down here, everything is concentrated in Nairobi. So I decided to come back home, or near home and give back to my community.
I also worked as a part time lecturer in Moi University at the time. I worked both jobs for 4 years until 2015 when I decided to resign and do full time teaching at Moi University. Unfortunately, I was there for only one year, and because my heart was in Kisumu, and Maseno was looking for a dentist, I decided ‘why not!’ and that’s how I’m here.
theDoctor: You enjoy teaching?
Dr. Opondo: I love teaching, and I love learning more. In fact I plan on attending as many career building seminars as possible for my own personal growth. Even before I joined campus I worked as an untrained teacher in a number of high schools. Teaching is very fulfilling.
theDoctor: Any future plans in the teaching field.
Dr. Opondo: I would really love to see Maseno establish a dental school and I be part of it.
theDoctor: what is your biggest challenge as a dentist.
Dr. Opondo: There are many challenges, but the biggest I would say is lack of awareness and ignorance among our patients. Sometimes we even get patients who, due to misinformation, on their very first visit, say that they hate dentists. But I think with proper public education we could change that.
And we try. I for example carry out public talks, I sometimes go to radio Ramogi just to talk about dental and oral health. And I also love what my colleagues are doing in trying to create awareness of the availability of dental services and we are seeing more and more patients.
theDoctor: Besides the teaching and the clinic, what else do you do? Outside dentistry
Dr. Opondo: I do some side hustles, you see in this town medical services especially in the private sector are not charged very highly so you have to do some other things to keep afloat. So, I am into farming: I have tried maize farming, I have tried horticulture and lately I’m beginning to focus on animal husbandry and dairy farming.
theDoctor: that’s really good of you.
Dr. Opondo: thank you, I also knit (as a hobby), I love to cook and stay indoors. Actually, the place I crave the most is my house in Mambo Leo; where I can just stay and clean, and arrange my stuff and spend time with my family.
Family and Social life
theDoctor: Tell me about your family
Dr. Opondo: as I had mentioned, I am married, my husband is an interior designer, he designed our beautiful house. I have three sons, adolescents. And they are a very loving and supportive family. Plus, I am the only girl so they have to support me (laughing)
I like to spend time with my children and we do a lot of bible study together so they grow up knowing the right way even in this chaotic world we are in currently.
theDoctor: Congratulations on that. Do you have siblings.
Dr. Opondo: yes, a lot of them, you see my late dad was polygamous with 3 wives and a total of 18 children. So, I have very many brothers and sisters.
theDoctor: are any of them doctors like you?
Dr. Opondo: No, the careers are as diverse as they come. We have teachers, accountants …
theDoctor: that’s a big family to manage what did your father do?
Dr. Opondo: He worked with the Kenya Posts and Telecommunication company (now Telkom) and they kept transferring him, we lived and grew up in almost all the major towns in the country.
theDoctor: I assume that affected your education as well.
Dr. Opondo: Yes. It did I went to different schools in primary: I went to Nyasita Primary school in my village in Siaya in class one, then went to Fahari primary school in Mombasa class two through to 4 then finally when my dad was tired of moving with us around, he took us to boarding school. I went to Sega Girls’ primary school from class 5 to 8 in 1988 when I finished.
theDoctor: High school?
Dr. Opondo: I am an alumnus of Limuru girls’ school. I did very well in my primary and got a slot there.
theDoctor: anything else you would like to say…
Dr. Opondo: About myself I think that’s pretty much it, but I would like to appeal to my colleagues and the younger generations of doctors to focus on patients and treat them humanely without putting money first. Its really destroying the perception of the public towards doctors.
theDoctor found in Dr. Opondo a very Jovial, God fearing, well accomplished yet very modest dentist. Her passion for what she does cannot be concealed. theDoctor wishes her all the best in her endeavors and pray that God fulfills all her hearts desires.
By Nyadimu Festo