Musunga Mulenga is an aspiring surgeon with a deep appreciation for individualized solutions tailored to patients’ needs and a desire to make surgical care accessible to all those who need it. This summer, she shared and built upon these interests at the University of Wisconsin Department of Surgery, where she completed a rotation in plastic surgery through our Underrepresented in Medicine (URiM) scholarship program.
Mulenga’s passion for equity and focus on patient needs grew out of her experiences living, studying and volunteering around the world. Hailing originally from Zambia, she relocated to New Jersey, earned a bachelor’s degree at Rutgers University and a masters at Rowan University, and then worked at the Population Council in Mexico City. She next moved to Ohio to start medical school at Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine, which included volunteering in the country of Eswatini in southern Africa.
During her two-week rotation in our Division of Plastic Surgery, Mulenga says was inspired by the individualized care for patients she witnessed while working on call with Catherine Garland, MD. She also enjoyed working with Ahmed Afifi, MD, because of his consideration for each patient’s operative plan and his innovative approaches. Because of her interest in equitable access to care, Mulenga said she appreciated working with Samuel Poore, MD, PhD, and learning about his research exploring barriers to post-mastectomy reconstruction.
Mulenga recounts an experience during a rotation at her home institution that further highlighted the importance of understanding patient needs. A patient who was a refugee from the Congo undergoing breast reconstruction for burns to the chest and torso was reluctant to speak to male providers for cultural reasons. Mulenga recognized this nuance and subsequently visited the patient several times with an interpreter, as the patient only spoke the Kinyarwanda language. Their intimate discussions put the patient at ease and helped her feel that her confidence would be restored after surgery.
“It made me understand the impact doctors have on patients,” Mulenga said. “Restoring patients’ health goes beyond just saving lives, especially in plastic surgery. The nuances of restoring form and function while considering the psychosocial and economic impact for patients whose function and self-worth hang in the balance, impacts quality of life.”
Now in her final year of medical school, Mulenga is also pursuing a master’s degree in public health at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health. She intends to integrate a public health perspective into her career so that “we can address patient disparities in access to safe and skilled surgery both domestically and in Sub-Saharan African countries like my native Zambia.”
After graduation, Mulenga hopes to continue applying tailored solutions in and out of the OR domestically and internationally. Her vision is to become a plastic surgeon who continues to serve the underserved with a focus on addressing patient disparities in access to surgery through multidisciplinary approaches to research, capacity building and re-designing public health systems and policy.
“I left Madison consistently inspired by the brilliance of the attendings and the residents,” Mulenga said. “I felt like part of the team and it validated all of the goals I have for my own career.”
The URiM Scholarship Program supports medical students from diverse backgrounds in visiting student specialty rotations. Learn more about the program.