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Dr Noeline Nakasujja

Dr Noeline Nakasujja is the Ag. Head of the Psychiatry Department, College of Health Sciences Makerere University. She holds a double PhD-degree from Makerere University and Karolinska Institutet (KI).

Alumn Nakasujja

It was the desire to help people that brought Noeline Nakasujja to study medical training at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. Her aim was to specialise in one of the four most popular areas; internal medicine, surgery, obstetrics/gynaecology and paediatrics but during a clinical placement at Mulago hospital psychiatric unit she grew interested in psychiatry.

"I didn't realise you could read Psychiatry as a specialist discipline, it was nothing that the other students had as a goal for their studies. But as there are only 38 psychiatrists in the whole of Uganda today, the need for more doctors in the field is extremely pressing,” says Noeline.

After Noeline had finished her studies in 2002, she worked at the psychiatric ward at Mulago Hospital where the clinic manager encouraged staff to apply for SIDA grants for PhD studies at Karolinska Institutet.

“I had heard of KI through other colleagues who have studied for a PhD there so I knew it would be a good development opportunity for me to take a double PhD degree from both universities.”

During her doctoral studies, Noeline was at KI on several occasions, the longest for a period of 2 months.

“I learned a lot, it was interesting to see how teaching and research works in a different environment. Obviously there were some practical differences, like for example, you rarely get power cuts in Stockholm, unlike in Kampala. But also the way of organising the administrative work gave me inspiration for how I could continue to work at home,” she explains.

Dr. Nakasujja's degree was conferred in Stockholm in May 2011. For her PhD studies, she compared cognition and psychotic disorders in people living with HIV AIDS and those living without it.

“This study is the first of its kind in the detailed assessment of cognitive function for HIV AIDS patients who have mental illness. I discovered that these patients perform poorly in comparison to patients who have psychosis only”, she says.
“My study helps future researchers and medical practitioners identify the different ways that HIV positive patients with psychotic disorders present and subsequently how they should be managed,” she adds.

Noeline is a supervisor for other PhD students and has also been responsible for updating the handbook (PhD guidebook), which is a result of a collaboration between Makerere University and Karolinska Institutet. The handbook was first written by Prof. Obua and Prof. Peterson.

The aspect Noeline likes best about her work today is the combination of teaching, meetings with patients, all of which have a different story, and research. Noeline loves all three of these aspects of her work, but is unfortunately not able to devote as much attention to her research as she would like. Since she is the Head of department there is a lot of administrative work involved.

Noeline meets regularly with a group of other alumni who have all been part of the KI Makerere collaboration.

“We usually meet over a cup of tea at a café in Kampala and talk about our shared experiences,” says Noeline. “The responsibility of being meeting convener has rotated and we have met about 4-5 times a year.” Noeline is keen to encourage others to take the opportunity of exchange studies or a double PhD degree at KI.

“It's a bit like the Ugandan proverb that says: Anyone who has never moved house thinks their mother is the best cook.”

Dr Noeline Nakasujja