What inspired you to become a nurse?
I liked nursing from childhood. When I was still very young, I saw a book with a picture of a nurse who was taking care of a patient and I told myself, I want to be like this woman. So, I grew up liking nursing. Fortunately, when I completed my Cambridge [International Examinations], I applied for nursing and was taken into it.
What has been your most memorable moment as a nurse?
The time I will never forget is when I was still in service as a general nurse. I had to attend to a patient who came from a road traffic accident with a very deep laceration. I had never sutured before. There were only two of us on duty, so I went and called my senior. She was not helpful. She just said, “Go and do the suturing. You were also trained to suture.” I had to think about whether I should call the doctor or do the suturing. I talked to the patient and said, “You know what, I have never sutured, but you are going to be my first client.” And the patient said, “Yes, go ahead!” He was so reassuring. After suturing, I asked him to look for me when he came in for dressings so that I could see whether the wound was healing. I monitored his wound myself and it healed so well.
You spent most of your career working as a midwife. What was your most memorable moment as a midwife?
I will never forget a situation where there was a woman in labor and the baby was in a position which we call face presentation. Face presentation is when a baby’s face comes through the pelvis first. When I was doing the examination, I put my fingers to check the dilation. This baby started sucking my fingers. I knew what was happening, but I didn’t want the mother to see that I was kind of shocked. I didn’t want to scare her. It was not going to be a normal delivery because of the face presentation. We took her to the theatre. When we came back [after the cesarean delivery], I explained to her what had happened during the examination.
Every time the mother saw me, she would give me updates on the baby and start with, “Your child…” She was calling him my child. These are the moments you recall. When you assist a woman in such situations, you really enjoy what you are doing.
How have these moments influenced your leadership style and the way you interact with nurses and midwives who are new in the field?
I don’t want other people to experience what I have experienced. People are not the same. For me, for example, I will get the courage to go ahead and do something, but I know somebody else would not have done what I did. So, I mentor people. I like to at least be there with them when they are doing something they have never done before. It is the duty of the senior to ensure that the junior people are doing the right thing.
The other thing that really touches me is when a woman delivers a baby with an abnormality. I have realized that most of the time nurses and midwives don’t explain what the expectation is and the kind of life the mother and child will have. We really have to teach our mothers—explain to them the condition the baby has—so that they accept their child from the beginning.
How do you think the global community can better support nurses and midwives?
I think global support can come in terms of trainees. In some countries, you’ll find that there are no private training institutions, only government institutions. Governments don’t train a lot of people because of funds. Global institutions can help in terms of training [health professionals] especially in specialized areas. There is a shortage of specialists. We need nurses trained in oncology, for example. We need community health nurses to go out into communities so that they can make proper and early diagnosis.
2020 is the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife. What does that mean for you personally as well as for the nursing and midwifery professions?
Personally, I am very excited that a body at a higher level, like the World Health Organization, recognizes a nurse and a midwife. Without nurses and midwives, we cannot reach Universal Health Coverage or achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
It is now up to us to take up this opportunity that has been conferred on us to show people that indeed we are important. We have to make ourselves known by our communities. We need to do even more than what we have been doing.
What would you say is the role of nurses and midwives in strengthening health systems?
Everything starts with a nurse. At the remotest area, you will find a nurse. You go to health facilities; we are the first contact. We are the ones who start screening people in the communities for malaria and TB, for example. For midwifery services, we deliver women. Nurses and midwives are the people at the forefront. We are also the people that bring in other healthcare professionals. If we see a patient, we are the ones who refer them to the dietician, nutritionist, and so on.
What would you want people to know about nurses and midwives?
Without nurses and midwives, there is no healthcare. This is what I want people to know: nurses and midwives are a very important community in the health services. Think of a situation in a remote area, for example. I have worked in a remote area where there was no doctor. In that case, you are the only nurse, you are the doctor, you are everything.
*Photo Credit: Seed Global Health
Keoagetse Kgwabi is the President of East, Central, and Southern Africa College of Nursing and the Principal Nursing Officer 1 at Gweta Primary Hospital, Botswana.