Training a Generation of Liberian Nurse Anesthetists

Daisy WinnerBlog, Liberia, Nursing

The work of Mr. Wilmot M. Fassah, a Liberian nurse anesthetist, is truly remarkable. From 1989-2003, his country was ravaged by a civil war that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Liberians. More recently, an Ebola outbreak further devastated the country, infecting and killing thousands more. The health system in the country remains a fragile and understaffed.

Despite these monumental challenges, Mr. Fassah maintained his steadfast dedication to training nurses in anesthesia patient care.

He alone is responsible for training more than 80 percent of the nurse anesthetists in Liberia.

We recently spoke with Mr. Fassah, who is now the Director of Anesthesia Programs at Phebe Paramedical Training Centre School of Nursing.

How did you get involved in nursing anesthesia?

 WF: I trained at the Phebe School of Nursing in the 1970s. After graduating I became a nurse on the medical surgical ward. And while I was there I noticed the few number of patients that were receiving proper pain management or anesthesia during procedures.

At the same time, a nurse Anesthetist who was trained in Puerto Rico, Mrs. Carmen Gwenigale, had just stated the anesthesia program at Phebe. I graduated from this program 1982 and worked as a nurse anesthetist until the civil war broke out in 1989.

What impact did the war having on nursing anesthesia in Liberia?

WF: At the time that the war began, there were just two students enrolled in the program. And because it was so dangerous to be in the country, Mrs. Gwenigale had to leave Liberia. That is when she turned the program over to me. I kept the program running for another two years before we had to close it in 1990 because of the severity of the war.

While the war continued, I returned to work as a nurse working in a hospital in Monrovia. The war did not end until 2003 but in 2000 I was able to re- open the school. And in 2003 we gradated three students.

How did the recent Ebola outbreak impact the anesthesia program at Phebe?

 WF: Thankfully we did not have to close the school but rather we extended the students break until it was safe for them to come back to school. Currently we have seven students enrolled in the school and are looking to have ten more join us next year.

What are some the new challenges that the program faces?

 WF: Today, our program at Phebe is the only nursing anesthesia training program in the country. But it’s difficult to get students to enroll but even when we have students, there are few faculty. able to train them. We only have three instructors to train all of students for the entire country.

What is something that you wish people outside of Liberia knew about your work and your country?

 WF: Anesthesia is not recognized as important in the health system. From a very basic level all the way to a higher political level, people do not know what anesthesia is or why it’s important.

In order to give surgical patients the proper care, we need well trained nurse anesthetists. It is my dream to raise the importance of anesthesia in Liberia.

I want to have a school where we can train an adequate number of nurse anesthetists, where the people of Liberia can benefit from their care.