Reflections on two years of teaching in Uganda

Daisy WinnerBlog, Nursing, Uganda

Robert Kasibante has deep ties to the country where he has served for the last two years a Global Health Service Partnership (GHSP) nurse educator. Robert was born in Uganda, the country where his parents still live and where two of his three children were born. He grew up in the United States, earning his bachelor’s degree in Nursing in Texas before working in Washington for the last several years. But his return to Uganda has been a significant time in his life.

We recently spoke with Robert about his time as a GHSP Nurse Educator, and what he has both taught and learned during two years in Uganda.

Why did you want to become a nurse?

My grandmother and three of my aunts were nurses. They were the ones who inspired me. I really fell in love with nursing when I was getting my associate’s degree. After working for a bit, I received my bachelor’s degree and I had started my master’s degree when I left to volunteer with GHSP.

What drew you to volunteer with GHSP?

I felt an inner need to give back, and I liked the unique model of the program. With GHSP, I could both teach in the classroom and provide clinical instruction.  This truly has been an ideal experience and I have found it to be very rewarding.

What is your favorite part about being a nurse educator with GHSP?

I like teaching new skills to young nurses. I consistently witness their desire to gain more and more knowledge. Their enthusiasm for learning motivates and inspires me as a teacher.

I also like teaching my students to become advocates for patients. They are the ones on the front lines of healthcare. Nurses spend the most time with patients, and are the coordinators for patient care who develop close relationships with patients. I hope to impart on my students and understanding of the essential role that they play in their patients’ lives.

Why did you decide to extend your service for a second year?

The first year of working in Uganda was learning. You are learning your way around, getting to know your colleagues, developing relationships, and trying new things to see how they work. The students and the faculty are just starting to get comfortable with you, knowing that you’re here for the long run.

I wanted to stay another year so that I could put into practice the things that I have learned and to continue the relationships and works I developed. I spent the first year listening and observing, and I think that made me a better educator and teacher for the second year.

In Uganda, relationships are very important. You have to devote time to developing relationships with your colleagues – which isn’t always easy and it take a lot of patience. You may not always agree with how things are done, but if you have a strong relationship and sense of collaboration, it makes introducing changes a lot easier.

How has being Ugandan changed your experience?  I think that its inspiring for students to see me and think, “He is Ugandan. And if he can do it, I can do it too.”

What do you hope to bring back to your work in the United States after two years in Uganda?

 I have learned a lot about teaching and how to adjust to the different needs of students and the different ways of teaching. I have learned how to be more patient.

 I have also learned how to use the resources available to me more wisely. In Uganda, you don’t have every test or piece of equipment available at every moment, so it really forces you to be innovative. And I can rely more on my assessment and clinical skills rather than needing expensive tests or equipment.

What was the biggest surprise during your time in Uganda?

 I was really surprised with just how few resources are available in the hospital. You have an idea, but when you go into the ward and there are no gloves, no medications, and so forth, it really shows you how little they have.

It was also amazing to see how the families of patients develop relationships with one another. They really advocate for each other in the hospital. The hospital can have limited resources, but amongst the families and patients, they found ways to help and support each other, which was really remarkable.

What are you most proud of from your two years of service?

We once had a very young patient, maybe seven years old, who had severe chemical burns. She was in excruciating pain, especially when we changed her bandages. The students witnessed how difficult it was for her – so they became her advocate and worked to get her pain medicine before and after her painful bandage changings. At one point, she used to lay in bed all day long, but soon she started getting out of bed and walking around the ward. Because the students were so involved, and so supportive, she was able to go home much earlier than we had expected.

We also had another patient that was a particularly challenging case. He had become bed ridden while in the hospital and felt destitute because of his economic and social status. But I explained to my students that, regardless of his background, he was our patient, and he needed to be cared for. Working with the hospital staff, we cleaned him and bathed him and it reinforced for all of us that we have a duty to all patients.