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Curiosity and compassion drives healthcare innovation

Dennis Natembeya’s desire to help his community led him to a career in nursing. At UVic, he developed innovative technology to fill gaps in healthcare—and found a way to impact even more lives.

A person standing on a path, arms folded, but smiling, surrounded by greenery with the ocean in the background.

There was only one trained nurse in the small village in western Kenya where Dennis Natembeya grew up. Everyone went to them for every health concern. Dennis saw what a valuable gift that person offered their community and knew from a young age healthcare was his calling. He trained to be a nurse at the University of Nairobi because he wanted to be empowered to help people.

While working as a public-health nurse, Dennis saw the potential for technology to further help people. Simple solutions, such as sending text-message reminders to HIV patients about their anti-viral medications, could save lives. It made him curious how he could solve healthcare challenges with technology.

Dennis followed this curiosity, first moving to Canada to expand his technical knowledge, and then entering the Masters in Health Informatics program at the University of Victoria. There he met fellow students who shared his fascination with finding creative solutions to fill gaps in healthcare.

Pitching real-life solutions

Dennis and several UVic students entered Code Hack, a health-innovation competition put on by Island Health. The team’s pitch, based off Dennis’s observations from working in long-term care facilities, was to reduce admissions of seniors to emergency rooms through an app that enabled seniors to do self-assessments at home and sent the information to nurses to use for triage. They won the competition and it was in that moment, Dennis says, “I realized I’m actually an innovator.” 

His innovative approach and solutions-focused leadership earned Dennis the Paulette Lacroix Nursing Informatics Leadership Scholarship. When he learned about the award, Dennis was already working on his next health technology product (LinkRx), while studying and working part-time. “That was a good sense of relief for me,” notes Dennis. “It was a form of validation that people can appreciate my efforts behind the scenes. And it was a helpful financial boost.” 

“I’m intrinsically encouraged to continue innovating and to do things to help seniors. But that award... Canadians would say it's the icing on the cake. Something comes on top and just covers the whole thing, and it kind of makes it beautiful. You feel like you are well appreciated.”—Dennis Natembeya 

As a working practitioner, Dennis has an insider’s viewpoint of problems and potential solutions. He believes healthcare informatics and clinical practice go hand in hand. He goes to work with “investigative eyes. You are curious, but you are empowered that it can be done. The best part about being in Canada is that you can find resources to support your ideas.” 

A person wearing a suit and brightly coloured shoes posing by the ocean
Dennis is preparing to expand his innovative health technology platform after he graduates.

Solving social isolation for seniors

After noticing the social isolation many seniors face, he pitched a technology solution to the Canadian Centre for Brain Health Innovation and received seed funding for his idea. He built a web platform, LinkRX, that matches seniors with social companions. It is already being used by one senior's home to book more than 100 social hours each month for their residents. Through his master’s program, Dennis is learning about design, security and AI to help prepare for the platform’s expansion after he graduates.

With an exciting, entrepreneurial future ahead, Dennis believes donors should know that their support can have a domino effect. 

“At times I look at myself, I didn’t know I would qualify for these [awards]. Someone like me, where I come from… now a scholarship recipient! They started something—a chain—that needs to be passed on to other people. I hope I can continue to do that for others.”—Dennis Natembeya, Health Informatics

To read more about the impact of donor generosity, visit the 2024 UVic Annual Report to Donors.

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