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He built Uganda's biggest private dental practice

By Vision Reporter

Added 28th February 2015 04:32 PM

When he was a child, Tom Mutyabule wanted to be a pilot. For this reason, he opted for sciences at high school.

He built Uganda's biggest private dental practice

When he was a child, Tom Mutyabule wanted to be a pilot. For this reason, he opted for sciences at high school.

When he was a child, Tom Mutyabule wanted to be a pilot. For this reason, he opted for sciences at high school.

Unfortunately, the options were limited, restricting him to a subject combination that left him with two choices; human medicine or dental surgery.

He opted for the latter at university, more out of lack of choice. He has never regretted this option. In 1995, with the help of relatives and his own savings, he started out with a small private clinic that was set up with second-hand equipment and one employee at Pan World Centre on Nkrumah

Road in Kampala. Almost 20 years later, he is running the largest private dental practice in Uganda, Pan Dental Surgery, a high-tech dental service with two branches, and over 35 staff, writes Tadeo Bwambale

Early life

I was born on February 6, 1966 in Jinja to the late Elijah Mutyabule and Margaret Batwawula. My father was a judicial officer. He grew up through the ranks from being a lawyer, magistrate in Mbale to a Chief Registrar of the High Court in Kampala.

He then retired to private practice, but died in 2000.

My mother was and is still a farmer.

I grew up in a large family.

My father had 20 children from different women; I am the eldest of my mother’s children.

I started school at Maggwa Primary School and later moved to Mwiri Primary School, where I did my Primary Leaving Examinations.

I went to school in the era of former President Idi Amin when resources were very scarce. We went to school without even the most basic of essentials; things that children take for granted these days.

There was an acute shortage of essential commodities following the 1972 expulsion of Asians by Idi Amin.

The new owners ran down the stocks, yet nothing was being imported. We queued for basic commodities. I remember soda was an almost exclusive Christmas treat. It was a very difficult life. While at Mwiri Primary School, the teachers were very harsh; they used to cane us a lot.

In our class, there was always a heap of sticks. The flip side of this is that we were forced to take life very seriously.

Namasagali College influence I joined Namasagali College for my O’level and A’level education. Namasagali was a very interesting school in the 1980s.

They used to ferry us to school. The school bus would pick students from Kampala, Iganga, Jinja and Kamuli and take them to school.

It was always nice to be ferried to school in a school bus, unlike these days, where children are dropped off by their parents.

The school bus was cheaper and easier. It was a culture and style of going and leaving school. It was fun and fostered unity among the students.

The former head teacher, Father Damien Grimes, mentored us. It was not always about just books. He taught us to think ‘outside the box’.

The school brought out the best in everybody. As a result, many of us have since established successful careers in different fields.

I was one of the best students in O’level at Namasagali. As a result, the school gave me a full scholarship to go back and study A’level.

As a child, my dream was to become a pilot; I never set out to be a dentist.

All I knew was that to become a pilot, I would have to study sciences. So, I chose to study a science combination.

Unfortunately, at the time, there was only one science combination: Physics, Chemistry and Biology (PCB).

It was a bit challenging for my class because the performance in sciences in O’ level had not been as good as in the arts. I got friends from other schools to help me figure out how they were managing in sciences.

One of these was a nephew, who studied at St. Mary’s College Kisubi.

As a result of my efforts, I was the best student at Namasagali in the A’ level exams. I scored BEC with a good grade in sub-maths and a credit in General Paper.

That was exceptionally good. Those days, it was virtually unheard of for someone to score AAA the way it is today.

University education

With PCB, I could only pursue one of two choices of courses at university; human medicine or dentistry. I chose to pursue dentistry, becoming the first student in Namasagali College’s then 28-year history to pursue dentistry at university in 1986. It was a five-year course.

Because of the war that brought the National Resistance Movement to power in 1986, the university adjourned the opening from October to December.

As a result, the workload was congested and the beginning was very challenging. In fact, all the five years were a difficult period. In the second year of university, lecturers went on strike and we ended up studying the entire year in three terms.

During the third year, lecturers went on strike again and in the fourth year, students went on strike and the university was closed for one term. In the fifth year, students went on strike again. Life at campus was challenging.

There was more freedom, but also more responsibility. I had been a swimmer at Namasagali College, so when I joined university, I became the captain of the swimming team. That was fun.

One thing I remember towards the end of my course is that after a gruelling five years in school, some people kept taunting us about whether we would spend the rest of our lives just plucking out people’s teeth. I felt very discouraged.

Going to the UK

In my fourth year at university, I got the opportunity to go to the UK to study an elective. An elective is a placement undertaken by a student in an institution as part of a medical degree. I was attached to Glasgow School of Dentistry.

That exposed me to a whole different level of dentistry and dental practice. It was not by competitive bidding; I was recommended by Father Grimes to the British Council, which was sponsoring the programme.

Father Grimes had a lot of regard for me as a hardworking young man. I spent six weeks in the UK.

During my visit, there was an examination in which second year master’s degree students were asked some questions that none of them could answer. But I did. They were amazed that a fourth year undergraduate student from Africa got the answers right. Because I impressed them, they invited me to go there again.

I graduated in 1991. I was fortunate not to repeat a class or get a retake. I cannot take this for granted because whereas we set out as a class of 15, only seven of us successfully completed.

After dental school, we had to undergo a compulsory year of internship, which I did between 1991 and 1992 at Mulago Hospital and late  at Mengo Hospital.

After internship, I was posted to Butabika Hospital as a dentist at the psychiatry unit. While there, I moonlighted at a private clinic at the National Insurance Corporation (NIC) building between 1992 and 1993.

Joining private practice

In 1995, I opened up my first clinic at Pan World Centre on Nkrumah Road in Kampala. I did not quit the job at Butabika. I used my savings to set up the clinic. I had grown a client base from Butabika and the clinic at NIC.

But I also got a lot of support from my relatives, some of whom were involved in the medical field. They helped me to acquire second-hand equipment.

The name Pan Dental Surgery was derived from the building on which it was located. The word ‘Pan’ means ‘all’.  While I was away, I left Pan Dental in the hands of a colleague.

However, I kept coming back during school breaks.

Upon completion of my master’s degree, I taught at the Dental School at Makerere University. Around the same time, I was invited for a conference in the UK to present a thesis on dental radiology, along with seven others. I won the first prize of $2,500 (about sh7.2m) at the International Association of Dentomaxillofacial Radiology (IADMFR) conference.

Fact file

Mutyabule never set out to become a dentist. As a child, he wanted to be a pilot

He was the first student in Namasagali College’s 28- year history to study dental surgery at university

He was the first Ugandan to study for a master’s degree in dental radiology at the University of London

His profile: Who is Tom Mutyabule?

I was born on February 6, 1966 in Jinja to the late Elijah Mutyabule and Margaret Batwawula. I grew up in a large family.

My father had 20 children from different women. I am the eldest of my mother’s children. I studied at Maggwa Primary School and later Mwiri Primary School.

I joined Namasagali College for my O’level and A’level and later Makerere University for dentistry.

Challenges: Dollar rate hurts business

Asset financing is very costly; we would have loved to have low interest rates. We earn in Uganda shillings, yet the dollar is always on an upward scale.

This hurts our business since most of the materials and equipment we use are imported.

We do not have an organised database and this makes it difficult to follow up on patients.

Many times, people come when they are in pain and at times they have not really planned their finances, which makes treatment difficult.


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