Meet our first female neurosurgeon

Dr Esther Roibete Apuahe with her husband Wilson Gaius and daughter Tonya Gaius after her graduation last month at the Sir John Guise Stadium in Port Moresby.

SHE was raised by a high school teacher father with a simple salary and fought her way to become the first Papua New Guinean female neurosurgeon.
Esther Roibete Apuahe, 44, says her journey has been rough. But getting a higher postgraduate diploma in neurosurgery at the University of Papua New Guinea’s (UPNG) 67th School of Medicine and Health Sciences graduation last month was an achievement that she would always be proud of.
Dr Apuahe was always interested in surgery but after getting her Bachelor in Medicine and Bachelor in Surgery (MBBS) at UPNG in 2002 her residency at Nonga General Hospital in Rabaul, East New Britain from 2003 to 2005 forced her to work at the emergency department until she left for Alotau and worked at the paediatric department.
After a full year at Alotau, Dr Apuahe began her surgical journey in 2006 working with one of the country’s best surgeons, Dr Westin Seta.
“I will always be thankful for Dr Seta for using his experience and allowing and trusting me during my initiation in the field of surgery,” neurosurgeon Dr Apuahe stated.
In 2007, she went back to UPNG to work on qualifications in surgery and after six years Dr Apuahe graduated with a Masters in Surgery in 2011 becoming the first female local surgeon after 30 years.
Dr Apuahe describes working as a surgeon (a male dominated field) as one that she had broken a barrier. Today the country has eight female surgeons.
In 2012, she was called by the then hospital chief executive officer and now Pomio MP Elias Kapavore to be the surgeon on the ground in Vanimo Hospital in West Sepik until the end of 2014. That same year, she received a call from Dr Osbourne Liko, the current Health Secretary who was the chief surgeon then, asking her is she was interested in neurosurgery after the passing of Dr William Kaptigau the first neurosurgeon in PNG.
“There was a need for a national to continue neurosurgery services in the country so I joined so they could train me further,” Dr Apuahe recalled.
She began her neurosurgery experience with no guidance considering the fact that the last one passed on but she was thankful for her external supervisor from Melbourne, Australia, Dr Geoffrey Rosenfelg a military specialist in surgery who was involved in teaching neurosurgeons from underdeveloped countries.
Dr Apuahe’s training was also maintained by Dr Isi Kevau from UPNG’s Medical Faculty.
In 2018, she was awarded a scholarship called Rowa from the Royal Australian College of Surgeons as an international medical graduand from the Pacific Island.
“The scholarship was one important part of my career in neurosurgery as it enabled me to be attached in Townsville Hospital,” she stated.
Her training included local and international attachments and mentorships. She and her two male colleagues were mentored and trained by Dr Eric Guazzo at the Townsville Hospital. Dr Guazzo has been involved with neurosurgery training in PNG for some time.
Her training in Townsville in 2019 was a contribution by the Royal Australian College of Surgeons as part of their contribution to neurosurgery in PNG.
In 2020, she was involved in a conference of Women in Neurosurgery in the South East Asia Pacific Region to celebrate 100 years of women’s contribution to neurosurgery. A journal was published to mark that celebration which was one of her achievements.

Dr Esther Roibete Apuahe in the operating theatre at the Port Moresby General hospital recently.

Dr Apuahe comes from Garaina in Morobe.
Her dad the late Tongy Apuahe was a simple teacher (as she described him) made sure she and her four sisters got educated. Dr Apuahe’s achievements is proof of the teacher dad’s commitment to her daughters.
“We lost our beloved dad in 2015 who left behind our beautiful mother Faina Apuahe who is always proud of us,” a tearful Dr Apuahe said.
She was born in Rabaul, East New Britain where her dad taught in 1978. She did her primary education there before moving back to Morobe in 1987.
From 1991 to 1994 she attended Busu High School and later attained an Australian aid scholarship and did her year 10 again in Townsville.
It was after that when she moved back to the country to begin her medical journey in 1998 as a freshman at UPNG.
Today, Dr Apuahe is the Deputy Chief Surgeon for Southern Region and has been in that role since June 2021.
She dedicated her achievement to her late dad, her mum, family and also her husband Wilson Gaius and three children.