Dr. Claire Karekezi is the first and sole female neurosurgeon in entire Rwanda. She has served as a consultant neurosurgeon at the Rwandan Military Hospital since 2018. Karekezi is one of six neurosurgeons in the country and she is widely recognized as an advocate for women in neurosurgery. Dr. Claire Karekezi is the acting chairperson of the African Women in Neurosurgery (AWIN), Committee of the Continental Association of African Neurosurgical Societies (CAANS), and was elected as a member of the national council of the Rwanda Medical and Dental Council (RMDC) and the Secretary of the bureau for 2022-2026.
Claire Karekezi was born in 1982, in Butare, Rwanda. Her father worked as a telecommunications engineer and her mother was a high school teacher. She grew up in Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, where she and her two older siblings went to school. As a child, Karekezi fell in love with every bit of the sciences that she eventually wanted to become an astronaut at NASA. After sixth grade in elementary school, she majored in mathematics and physics in high school. In 1994, when Karekezi was 12, she witnessed the gory war between the Hutu and Tutsis where over 800,000 people were killed. Karekezi eventually graduated from high school in 2001 in Kigali. She met the entrance criteria for medical school and studied general medicine in Butare at the University of Rwanda College of Medicine and Health Sciences. Karekezi was officially granted the title of doctor as she graduated in 2009. Claire’s time at Butare was life-changing. She had her first exposure to neurosurgery, an experience that inspired her to the career. While studying at the university, Dr. Karakezi travelled to Sweden, where she discovered her enthusiasm for neurosurgery. Her mentor and “father in neurosurgery,” Dr. Jan Hillman granted her access to observe a brain tumour surgery, leaving her both intrigued and determined to work in that field.
In 2011, Dr. Claire Karekezi was accepted into the World Federation of Neurosurgical Societies (WFNS) Reference centre in Rabat for the training of African neurosurgeons. She spent the next five years delving deeper into her newfound specialty of neurosurgery during her residency at the Mohamed V University of Rabat, Rabat Reference Center for Training Young African Neurosurgeons. In 2016, Dr Karekezi became the American Association of Neurological Surgeons International Visiting Surgeon Fellow at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a Harvard Medical Center Teaching Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. Before returning to Rwanda in 2018, Karekezi completed a clinical fellowship in Neuro-oncology and Skull Base Surgery at the University of Toronto, where she practiced at Toronto Western Hospital.
Dr Karakezi returned to Rwanda as the country’s first female neurosurgeon in December 2018, upon completing her fellowship in Toronto. She joined the Rwandan Military Hospital (RMH) in Januray 2019 as the hospital’s first consultant neurosurgeon and the first neurosurgeon to perform neurosurgical procedures there. She started the first few months of her tenure by establishing a functional neurosurgical unit by acquiring the necessary surgical equipment and personnel. Neurosurgery is a male-dominated field in Africa but Karakezi is determined to motivate and inspire women to accept the field. She continues to raise awareness about the need for more experienced female neurosurgeons in order to assist other young women in overcoming various obstacles inherent to the field. Dr Claire Karekezi is an advocate for women who wish to pursue STEM fields (science, engineering, technology, and mathematics).
I refuse to allow being African and a woman to be a limitation for me.” She has raised awareness about the significance of neurosurgical education on the African continent, the need for more female neurosurgeons to combat stereotypes, and the severe shortage of neurosurgeons in the continent.
Dr Claire Karekezi