Dr Emmaeli shares a tale of firsts, passion and hard work

Pathologist Emmaeli Moshi PHOTO | SUDAY GEORGE

What you need to know:

  • For Dr Emmaeli, being the first female pathologist in Tanzania was a pleasant coincidence, but it took hard work, passion, dedication in her studies, and a work ethic that put her on a success trajectory.

A Kiswahili adage goes, “jungu kuu halikosi ukoko,” which literally means a big cooking pot will always hide the hard-burnt food. This statement connects well with Dr Emmaeli Moshi, the first female pathologist in the country.

Three months after her retirement on October 13, 2023, Dr Emmaeli was called back to work as a consultant pathologist, both with colleagues and postgraduate students in pathology in the department of histopathology and morbid anatomy at the Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH).

“You can never retire from medicine. Medicine is not only a science but also an art. Practice makes perfect. When I enrolled in this course, I did it as Dr Emmaeli and not as a female. Being the first female pathologist was accidental and not intentional,” said Dr Emmaeli.

She is a pathologist with a super-specialty in dermatopathology. This deals with diseases of the skin. With her speciality, she is not aware of another dermatopathologist in the country and stands to be corrected.

Her career journey started in 1979 when she joined Muhimbili Medical Centre for her Bachelor’s degree in medicine, which she completed in 1984. Followed by a one-year internship at Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre in 1985, and then worked at Mawenzi Regional Hospital as a general practitioner.

In 1988, she registered for her Masters degree in pathology and morbid anatomy, which she completed in 1991. She super-specialised as a fellow in dermatopathology for 1 year at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, in 1994. She worked at Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre and College as a histopathologist and lecturer in pathology from 1992 until October 2007, when she joined MNH.

In 1998, she did a short course in cancer registry at Leon, France, and Edinburg University.

In being the first female pathologist in Tanzania, Dr Emmaeli says she began by enrolling in pathology and morbid anatomy studies. There were only seven Tanzanian pathologists working in Tanzania, and two were in neighbouring southern African countries.

Until now, there have been few female pathologists. At present, there are about 50 pathologists in Tanzania, of whom at least 12 are female (24 percent). There is a need for more female pathologists,” she said.

“I am happy that I was able to open the gates for other female pathologists. At least there is a female pathologist in all zonal hospitals. There are two female pathologists in the private sector too,” said Dr Emmaeli.

Adding to that, she shares that pathology is a subject that is taught in the third year during the first-degree medicine course. She encouraged presentations to create awareness of pathology as a mandatory specialty for proper, effective medical practice. Women pathologists are greatly encouraged.

Commenting on the challenges she went through when doing her pathology course as a female student, she said her lecturers did not dwell on her being a female. Their approach was no different from that of other postgraduate students in the course.

“The main challenge was the attitude of my colleagues and a few in the society. There is a fear, reservation, and ignorance of this specialty of medicine, basically because only the aspect of postmortem is known or popular, disregarding histopathology,” she said.

Her role includes receiving specimen in the form of biopsies, fluids, or aspirates from patients suspected to have abnormal swellings, features, or fluids in their bodies. The patients are mostly recovering from surgery.

She said the specimen are processed chemically so that they can be sliced into ultra-thin sections, which enable her to read or look at their characteristics using a microscope.

“Microscopically, different diseases have different or specific appearances and patterns. This enables me to identify specific diseases if present, identify the behaviour of the disease, and explain the extent of the disease's progress,” adds Dr Emmaeli.

Through this information, the clinical doctors are able to give the proper treatment for the disease identified. 

She also does postmortems, and there are two types of postmortems namely medical legal and clinical postmortems. A postmortem is the examination of dead bodies so as to know why, how, and what killed the deceased.

A postmortem allays fear or resolves conflict in families when the cause of the death of their loved one is identified.

“This knowledge is useful for educational purposes and for medical-legal examination to be used as an expert witness. The information obtained is also used for preventive measures; that is, to be able to manage or treat similar cases when they happen again on another patient,” said Dr Emmaeli.

Sharing about her leadership journey, she said she has had different positions of leadership, from head of department Histopathology and Morbid Anatomy at KCMC Hospital and College, principle investigator of Kilimanjaro Cancer Registry, KCMC College University Teaching and Learning Coordinator, chairperson of some hospital subcommittees, and head of department Histopathology and Morbid Anatomy at Muhimbili National Hospital.

With her participatory leadership style, she believes that each person has a role or responsibility to play.

Responding to what stops women from excelling in their careers, she said that most women want it all. A successful career and a stable, successful family (husband and children). This is not easy. If there is no support from the family or working environment, either may suffer.

“I am an example. I have been married to Eng Zebadiah StepMoshi since 1986. I have three children, Naiman, Nathan, and Daniel, and a daughter-in-law, Irene. I had support from my husband, my late mother-in-law, and my late parents.

At one time or another, they all had to take my role in the family so that I could complete my studies or work,” she said.

She further comments on her success stories over the years in her work, saying that being able to help a patient to receive timely and proper treatment due to a correct and timely diagnosis is win for her.

“If I can justify the cause of death of an individual so that justice is made to the accused or the dead, this is a success story. A success story is if I am able to avoid another death from a similar case and when I can bring peace and harmony to families when I tell them that there was no foul play on the deceased,” said Dr Emmaeli.