UK HealthCare

From Kentucky to Kenya: UK alum’s journey of medical missions

Bryce Noblitt, M.D., Owen, Henry, Grace, and Mary Beth. Photo provided by Bryce Noblitt.
This monkey was waiting for the kitchen window to be left open again hoping to take another banana. Photo provided by Bryce Noblitt.
The Noblitt children were all under the age of six when they got off the airplane arriving in Kenya. Photo provided by Bryce Noblitt.
Noblitt taking a PAACS resident through a thyroidectomy, one of the more common procedures performed in Kenya. Photo provided by Bryce Noblitt.
Kenyatta National Hospital resident watches Noblitt and his partner perform otologic surgery under the microscope. Photo provided by Bryce Noblitt.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 26, 2024) —Not everyone gets to walk outside and watch monkeys play together in their front yard, but for Bryce Noblitt, M.D., and his family, this has become a new normal.

One afternoon the family looked out to see 15 monkeys jumping from tree to tree in their yard. These monkeys taught the family one of their first lessons of living in Kenya — don’t leave a window to your house open unless someone is there to guard the monkeys from coming inside. They quickly realized the monkeys had been climbing through their kitchen window to steal bananas.  

Noblitt always knew he had a calling to serve others. In 2012, he started medical school at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and his vision started to take shape.  

Noblitt spent nine years at UK receiving this medical degree and completing the otolaryngology - head and neck surgery residency program.

While in residency, Noblitt connected with Matthew Bush, M.D., chair for the Department of Otolaryngology and founder of the Kenya Outreach Program. Over the years Bush took several trips to Kenya to partner with the country’s flagship teaching hospital and only Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) training program.

“It was awesome to see him go on these trips and it opened my eyes up to global ENT needs, specifically in Kenya,” said Noblitt. 

Although he never had the opportunity to travel to Kenya with Bush due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Noblitt was still inspired to serve that population.

During school, he learned more about the Pan-African Academy of Christian Surgeons (PAACS). The group is a U.S. faith-based organization that has developed surgical residency programs in 13 sites around Africa.

Noblitt attended a PAACS conference and learned about an ENT department at AIC-Kijabe Hospital located in Kijabe, Kenya. AIC-Kijabe was the only site that had an ENT program already established.

Following his residency, Noblitt was ready to pursue his passion for medical missions. When the right opportunity presented itself, he hit the ground running.

In the fall of 2022, Noblitt, his wife and three children packed up and moved to Kenya. Their kids were all under the age of six when they got off the airplane with their bags.

“We live in a pretty small remote village,” said Noblitt. “But, within a couple of months of arriving, we were able to get into our routine.”

They live about an hour away from Nairobi, the city they have to travel to if they need to shop or buy groceries.

“The biggest adjustments were learning how to get to Nairobi, learning how to drive on the wrong side of the road, learning how to navigate the city and finding the stores where we wanted to shop since you can’t just look stuff up online,” said Noblitt.

Once they started to settle in, Noblitt began his work as a medical missionary at AIC-Kijabe Hospital in the ENT department as part of the post-residency program through Samaritan’s Purse.

“At the time, I was relatively fresh out of training,” said Noblitt. “It worked out well because I had someone else here with me that I could bounce ideas off, work with and learn from.”

The southern half of Kenya and areas around Kijabe are nicer and more developed, but the Northern part of the country has a desert climate with underdeveloped land and is a difficult place to live.  

“Northern Kenya is not really a safe place. The people up there don’t have great access to much in the way of health care or education,” said Noblitt. “But our hospital has been fostering a relationship over the past couple of decades to get people the help they need.”

Through this relationship, patients have felt more comfortable traveling down to AIC-Kijabe Hospital, where Noblitt can provide them with treatment.

“Being able to see and treat patients from up there has been one of the biggest highlights,” said Noblitt. “Doing ear surgery on them and restoring their hearing, is one of the coolest things about getting to work here because you know that those patients have nowhere else to go.”

Although his job is filled with highlights and the joy of healing others, being in a completely different country with different resources has its challenges.

“The biggest challenge is probably the lack of resources in the hospital,” said Noblitt. “All the cool disposable ENT tools and equipment that I used during my training in the U.S. aren’t available here. I’m learning how to get by without all the disposable things. I’m using the instruments that we have as opposed to having everything I could possibly want as I did in training when learning how to do surgeries.”

Since there are fewer resources, he has adapted to use them more sparingly.  

“For example, if we’re plating facial fractures, in the U.S., you use as many screws as you want to hold the plate in,” said Noblitt. “But here, maybe two screws will be good enough for that plate because we don’t have additional screws to spare.”

He says it’s all about making sure the patients have what they need.

“There’s a balance between using the resources wisely, not overusing them, but then still giving good patient care, doing things that are safe and that are going to work,” said Noblitt.

Sometimes what his patients need most is for someone to fully listen to them and be able to communicate clearly what their diagnosis is and how they can fix it. His patients are grateful to find out what is going on even if it’s a diagnosis as simple as a sinus infection or something more serious that might require surgery.

Communication can be difficult because most Kenyans grew up speaking their tribal language, and then learned Swahili in school. If they go on to high school or college, that’s usually when they learn English.

“Everyone is speaking at least their second language – if not their third language – when they’re having all these really important conversations,” said Noblitt. “So, I do think that the language barrier has to be a problem in some instances because some patients will come in with a pretty basic problem that just wasn’t clearly communicated to them.”

When Noblitt and his family arrived in Kenya, they started taking Swahili classes almost immediately so they would be able to help communicate with their community effectively.

They have now been living overseas serving their new community for over a year with no return date penciled in. Three of their children have started school in town, and the family recently announced the birth of their fourth child.

Noblitt’s goal is to continue to learn, grow, stay strong in his faith and provide the best care possible to all of his patients.

“It’s easy to get focused on the wrong end goal,” said Noblitt. “But as medical professionals, most of us set our end goal to be helping people who need it, or helping people that aren’t being helped by the system. If you remember that and let that goal shape your career choices, then it leads to a more fulfilling career, and probably a more fun career.”

Follow the Noblitt family’s journey through their blog and YouTube channel at