What made you decide to go into pediatrics?
I was born and raised in Kenya. Both my parents were in healthcare. My father was a physician and my mother is a nurse. Growing up, I really admired the way my parents cared for their patients and the impact they had on the lives of others. I remember one elderly gentleman who had driven over an hour to see my dad, but when he heard that he was out of town, he refused to see anyone else. I wanted to be the kind of physician my dad was. Unfortunately my father passed away during my residency, but I like to believe I’m making him proud.
After high school in Kenya, I joined Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada followed by medical school at Howard University in Washington, DC. I then came to Minnesota where I completed my residency training in internal medicine and pediatrics and subsequently a fellowship in Pediatric Critical Care. Why pediatrics? I have always enjoyed being around kids. They are energetic, curious, funny, loving human beings. They are also quite resilient and most, including some of the sickest patients in the PICU, are able to bounce back to health.
Describe your role at HCMC. What are some of the biggest challenges you face as an urban practitioner?
At HCMC, I wear a number of hats. In addition, I serve on a number of hospital committees including the hospital’s peer review committee, which I currently chair. These roles take me beyond my usual clinical duties as a critical care physician and this can be demanding at times. HCMC is a safety net hospital that strives to provide exceptional care without exception. This means that sometimes my colleagues and I care for children who come from families that are facing multiple stressors, including financial, housing and other psychosocial problems that are compounded by the child’s illness.
Helping these families navigate the healthcare system can be quite difficult and challenging but is ultimately rewarding.
You are an active member of MNAAP and the chapter’s next president elect. Why are you actively involved in this coalition of pediatricians?
I want to be able to make a difference. With MNAAP, I have joined a similar-minded group of pediatricians who are working together to improve the lives of Minnesota’s children. There are significant challenges that kids face, including access (which hopefully will improve with the Affordable Care Act), unintentional and intentional injuries, hunger, health disparities, obesity and newborn screening. I want to be a part of the team that stands in the gap for Minnesota’s kids.
When you’re not taking care of sick babies and children, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I enjoy spending time with family and friends. I love to travel. I love to read. Science fiction and fantasy works as well as African and African American literature are the main genres I enjoy. I also like certain non-fiction authors. I recently got done reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “David and Goliath,” which was an intriguing look at how we interpret obstacles and perceived disadvantage. I also enjoy listening to music. Although I have lived in Minnesota for almost 20 years, I have never quite gotten into winter sports. Given this past winter, I wonder if I should reconsider my stance on winter sports. This summer I am taking up a friend’s challenge and getting introduced to golf.
People say you always have a smile on your face. What’s your secret to being a happy pediatrician?
The smile is a blessing from God and my parents. I think the secret to being a happy pediatrician is finding a balance between work and personal life, which for me, is easier said than done. Fortunately, I have a very patient spouse. It also helps that we as pediatricians we have the coolest patients. Once you have made a connection with a child and their family, the natural joy that kids have just comes out and is very infectious.
Anything else you’d like to share? Anything people would be surprised to know about you?
My family is Kikuyu. The Kikuyu are the largest ethnic community in Kenya. I think what folks may be surprised to know about me, is that my surname “Kiragu” is derived from the Kikuyu words “mundū muragū” or “muragūri,” which mean “medicine man.”
I guess you can just call me Dr. Doctor.