Having drawn his inspiration and determination to becoming a Gastroenterologist from his sick friend, Dr. Basile Njei made up his mind to become a Gastroenterologist, and has turned out today to become one of the most recognizable medical personnel in the United States of America.
His most recent award amongst a list of others was the recognition for the Top Doctor of the Year 2021 by the America’s Best Doctors for his outstanding performance in Gastroenterology.
He has also received several other awards for his smart and breathtaking contribution to his medical field throughout his career such as the Howard Levine-MD Science Award, ACG Fellow-in-Training Award, AASLD Fellow Travel Award, AASLD Young Investigator Award and the Samuel Kushlan Award for Excellence in Research during GI Fellowship at Yale.
Having begun his education from Primary level till his first degree in Cameroon, at the University of Yaoundé 1, Dr. Basile Njei was awarded the coveted British Commonwealth/Chevening Scholarship to continue his medical studies in the United Kingdom at the University of Edinburgh.
Further studies and training took him to the Yale University in the U.S.A where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D program.
We sat with Dr. Basile Njei in an exclusive interview to find out more about his career path to the top, and the challenges he faced ascending to the very pinnacle of success in his field. Read below.
In lay man terms, what does a Gastroenterologist do?
Thank you for this question. The word “gastroenterology” is difficult to pronounce but it’s meaning is simpler than it sounds. It is simply the branch of medicine that focuses on the digestive tract (from mouth to the anus) and the liver. I am trained to diagnose and treat diseases of the stomach, intestines and liver diseases such as hepatitis and cancer.
Gastroenterologists are doctors who are trained to diagnose and treat problems in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract and liver.
Has it always been a goal for you to become one or you got inspired to it by someone or a situation?
Well, my parents played a great role in making me what I am today, and at the same time I have been inspired by certain circumstances in my growing up process. One of the most important circumstances was in my early teens when I saw my friend battling the complications of cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma after contracting Hepatitis B at birth.
As I watched him, the realities of his illness became apparent and indescribably emotional. Being one of the most determined young men in my neighborhood at the time, I felt the need to end the magnitude of death and suffering by healing the young people in my neighborhood. This gave me the urge to be drawn to a career in medicine and I am loving it.
You were recently recognized as one of the Top Doctors of the Year 2021, how do you feel about that honor?
Like my brother Bentley Njei, always says….” I think I earned it”…
I feel truly humbled and honored to have been voted by my colleagues and patients. I did not see this coming, but it is a blessing to know that the work I put in is seen by a great deal of people. I am very happy. I have received many other medical awards in the past, but I think this one is very special to me. It is my first award since I lost my dad, and I am dedicating this to him.
But on a serious note, I think this is a cumulation of over 20 years of medical training, sacrifice and dedication to the noble profession of medicine. It is a recognition of unwavering perseverance, selflessness, and genuine love for the medical craft. It is a true example of a situation where preparation meets opportunity. I believe the world is simply responding by telling me “Thank you for being a good doctor”
What are some of the major challenges you face in your field as a Gastroenterologist?
Every job has a challenge, technology changes every single day, and we must incorporate new things. The tempo of change is a huge challenge in GI. It is a field with constant evolution that what you learned one year may not be true the next year, so you really need to constantly update yourself on the latest alteration. That’s a challenge but also a blessing as it really forces you to stay on the top your game.
As a professional who began his training in Cameroon, how challenging was it adapting so quickly in the United Kingdom to become one of the best that you currently are?
It was quite a transition I would say, but also continuity at the same time because after graduation with a Masters in public health, my journey continued with 3 years of residency training in internal medicine and finally 3 more years of Gastroenterology Fellowship at the prestigious Yale University. Change is inevitable in this field of study, so I learned to easily adapt to every new environment.
As a professional in the medical field, what do you make of the current Covid-19 Pandemic in Africa and Cameroon in particular, compared to the rest of the world?
There are regional differences within the continent as regards the severity of cases and the outcomes, with the countries in North Africa having the worst outcomes. The case fatality rate is 3.1% for North Africa, 1.4% for West Africa, 1.6% for South Africa, 1.3% for East Africa and 1.3% for Central Africa. South Africa and Egypt account for 63% of all African cases and for 65% of the mortality.
These two countries along with Nigeria, the third ranked in terms of numbers, are also the three strongest economies on the continent. North Africa particularly appears to have the worst statistics in Africa, even though their numbers represent 17% of total cases, they constitute 34% of mortality.
In your opinion do you really think that vaccination is the best solution? If yes do we have a reliable vaccine as of now given that recent variants of the virus show that even vaccinated persons might still be vulnerable to it?
Yes, it is very important to get vaccinated. Now that effective vaccines for COVID-19 have been developed and are being distributed to members of the public, it is key for folks to understand the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccines and why they greatly outweigh mild potential side effects or inconvenience that may be associated.
At the start of the Pandemic, some western leaders predicted countless deaths in African countries. Why do you think this has not been the case despite the West’s advanced health system to Africa’s?
Experts say that some COVID-19 deaths in Africa probably are being missed. Testing rates in the continent of about 1.3 billion people are among the lowest in the world, and many deaths of all types go unrecorded. Scientists and public health experts cite several possible factors, including the continent’s youthful population and lessons learned from previous disease outbreaks. African governments also had precious time to prepare due to the relative isolation of many of their citizens from airports and other places where they could encounter global travellers.
How has the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic influenced your function as a Gastroenterologist?
Although the Gastroenterology (GI) Divisions are not primarily involved in the management of COVID-19 patients, many of them underwent a drastic and rapid rearrangement.
Some of us were converted to COVID Units to deal with the emergency, and many physicians, trainees and nurses were involved in the management of COVID-19 patients.
Moreover, several Divisions were forced to reduce the routine workload to prevent the infection spreading, with consequent quantitative and qualitative impairment of the health services provided and potential consequences for patients. Finally, specific, rigorous safety procedures were adopted to maintain some clinical activities unsuited to be postponed.
To date, however, a comprehensive picture of the characteristics and effects of the re-organization of Gastroenterology facilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic is not available.
Do You envisage ever returning to Cameroon for Cameroonians to benefit from your expertise?
Absolutely, there’s a lot of groundwork in the process. There’s no other better way I would better express myself and all I have achieved in my life than giving back to my people. Everything knowledge I have, is to use it to help people who are in desperate need of my help and support. Cameroon is my country of origin, and I want to give back by establishing a clinic/hospital, where sick people can be diagnose and treated effectively at the cheapest cost.
What do you have to say to Young Cameroonians who wish to become like you?
Three words: hard-work, hard-work and hard-work.
But I could not have done this without the help of so many great doctors who came before me. The list is endless, but I must mention Professors Walinjom Muna (who was also a Yale alumni), Peter Ndumbe, Mbu Robinson, Alan Tita, Emmanuel Bibi, Ivo Ditah, Thomas Lane, Michael Grey, Michael Nathanson, Joseph Lim, Amy Justice and Tamar Taddei.
Of course, my family, friends and “you” whose name I did not mention.
Always dream and work hard towards achieving everything you wish for. Take one day at a time, and everything you want in life, you can get it. I remind myself of that each time I opened my books, because I know exactly where I am heading to. If I can make it this far, you too can. Be determined, focused, Prayerful etc.. Be the change you want in your life.
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