Humanizing Care: How Nurses Put People First

CommunicationsBlog, Malawi, Nursing

As part of our National Nurses’ Week series on nursing and the Sustainable Development Goals, Malawian nurse educator and Coordinator for Academic Affairs for SJOGCHS, our colleague and friend Isaac Ziba, reflected on “humanized health care” and the role of nurses in centering the human experience for a patient’s best care, with a foreword by Seed Global Health’s Julie Anathan.


The ability to provide humanized and patient centered care can be challenging within environments where human resources for health are limited. In the US we have over 9 nurses per 1000 people while in Malawi there are less than one per 1000 people. In areas of the world where there are dire shortages of nurses, the day to day responsibilities for nursing staff can be stressful and overwhelming. In these settings, how do nurses stay focused on providing holistic care?  St. John of God College of Health Sciences, in Malawi, has modeled a culture engrained in humanized and patient-centered care within pre-service nursing education. The results, as our volunteers are seeing first hand, are evident.

– Julie 

St. John of God College of Health Sciences (SJOGCHS) is in Mzuzu City in Malawi, a small country in Southern Africa. The College opened its doors in 2003 and currently offers two nursing programs, a Bachelor of Science in Mental Health-Psychiatric Nursing and a Diploma in Nursing.

SJOGCHS envisions, in all it endeavours, to become a centre of excellence in training, research, and enhancement of quality delivery of health services in Malawi and beyond. Through its teaching and learning programmes, the College aims to provide students with high quality knowledge, skills and appropriate attitudes to enable them in humanized care for mental health and psychiatric service provision in Malawi and beyond.

Philosophically, SJOGCHS and its faculty believe that the person standing in need of health care is a unique being in his or her own right; and that care has to be holistic for individuals as well as for communities. SJOGCHS is anchored on five core values that center the person in providing humanized health care: hospitality, compassion, excellence, respect and justice.

Throughout the training and stay at the College, these values are constantly passed on to students. Their constant presence creates a culture of respect and dignity for the patient as a human being – no matter their health circumstances.

This kind of teaching and learning environment has helped our students to deliver high quality care. This has also helped them to navigate through highly ethical issues in the process of providing care to clients. As Amelia Rutter, a Global Health Service Partnership Volunteer Nurse Educator, wrote:

I have been spending time with our BSc students as they start their community mental health clinical practice with home visits. Today I saw a student spend a great deal of time with a young patient with a newly diagnosed mental illness. The student listened to the questions and hopes of this young man without judgement and then provided both the client and his family with education on the nature of mental illness. The student saw this client as a unique individual and treated him with respect, dignity and compassion.

All this, we believe, contributes to our student nurses embodying the knowledge, skills, competences and attitudes towards provision of humanised care to clients and patients; even more so for those with mental illness.

While the best is being done to enhance students’ teaching and learning –  and ultimately contributing hugely to mental health service delivery in Malawi and beyond – challenges of course still exist. While we want to do so much, faculty shortages are palpable, and partnerships like GHSP help to alleviate some of that pressure. Despite this we keep inspired by the fact that in our small ways, we can still do something. We believe we can do the very small things in extraordinary ways and still make the difference in human lives.

Header photo: Isaac is pictured with GHSP Volunteer Amelia Rutter. Photo credit: Julie Anathan.