The impact of the coronavirus varies from country to country, but the heroism that nurses like Doreenlove Serwah have while delivering care in their communities is universal.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Doreenlove safeguarded the success of Operation Smile medical missions in Ghana as a volunteer clinical coordinator. Today, she’s serving another vital role as the nursing lead at a local hospital, providing life-saving care to patients as well as educating her team of health workers on the necessary safety protocols that equip them with the skills and knowledge to handle the demands brought on by the virus.
“A lot of our nursing knowledge is now being channelled towards education,” Doreenlove said. “With education comes correcting misconceptions, alleviating anxiety and giving reassurance and general psychosocial counselling.”
As a Ghanaian nurse, Doreenlove relies on the courage and collaboration of her team in addition to her experience with Operation Smile to diligently fight this crisis head-on.
“My country, like many others globally, is facing the COVID-19 pandemic with the necessary urgency required,” Doreenlove said. “It’s a stressful time for everyone, especially health care workers, but we’re all doing the best that we can.”
We recently sat down with Doreenlove to hear more about the demands of being a nurse in a resource-limited country like Ghana and what inspires her to continue searching for hope despite the limitations she and her fellow medical professionals are facing.
Q: With the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, what is the current environment like in Ghana? In what ways have you seen the coronavirus affect families living in your country?
A: “The current environment is quite tense. Closely watching havoc being created in even better resourced environments and gradually watching our in-country cases rising. Public education on prevention measures have, however, gained grounds, and treatment centres are slowly taking shape in anticipation of surges. I daresay we are cautiously optimistic for the future.
“With the implementation of social distancing protocols nationwide and limited lockdown in some major urban centres, life as we knew it has come to a standstill. Schools are not in session, and a lot of economic income-generating activities have been suspended. In a way, I believe this has caused nuclear families to possibly bond better despite the challenges as they spend more time together, too.”
Q: What has been your role in response to this challenging time?
A: “As a nurse leader in my unit, I’ve been educating the nurses and other health workers on the need to adhere to the precautionary measures put in place by the World Health Organization to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Core topics include infection prevention and control practices such as hand and personal hygiene, proper ways of putting on and taking off personal protective equipment, proper cleaning and decontamination protocols as well as education on social distancing.
“In the managerial aspect, now more than before, is proper stock taking and procurement which is essential in the face of wide spread shortages to eliminate all waste while still ensuring adequate supply at all times. Apart from these, I’ve had to make changes in ward routines as well as prepare the ward in general should we have a COVID-19 suspected case since I work in paediatric emergency and its direct entry for patients without them having to go through all the usual processes.”
Q: What limitations have you and your other medical professionals faced?
A: “Major limitations we have faced are having fairly little knowledge on the COVID-19 virus, widespread misconceptions, exaggerated fear and panic gripping both general population and health workers alike, and limited resources, especially with regards to personal protective equipment.
“In my country, there are limited testing centres. This means waiting a little longer than usual to receive results on the status of patients. Also, staff strength is sometimes diminished when a staff member has to self-isolate while waiting for results.”
Q: What have you learned from being involved with Operation Smile that’s helped prepare you for responding to COVID-19?
A: “Involvement with Operation Smile has given me confidence in my leadership abilities, as I have clinically coordinated missions. I believe it has made me a more effective team player.
“The numerous educational sessions I’ve conducted for my nurses before, during and after missions have also given me insight to their general strengths and weaknesses, how to deliver information better, mentor efficiently, motivate adequately and manage better.”
Q: In light of this pandemic, why do you feel it’s so important to recognise nurses and the role they serve in the medical field?
A: “The pandemic and arising issues make it very apparent the role nurses play. We constitute a large workforce; dare I say the largest proportion in the health sector. We tend to have more interaction time with our patients, and this enables them to gain our trust and communicate more openly with us, allowing for us to counsel, educate and care for them. Our enhanced contact time and skills also allow us to make valuable observations and contributions to their health care planning.”
Q: It’s a very stressful time in your country and around the world right now. How are you doing, personally, with the impact this virus has placed on you?
A: “As a nurse, wife to a doctor and mother of two kids, I’ve had to place the care of my kids in the hands of my mother since my husband and I have to spend extra hours to help in providing services during this crisis. Also, in order not to take chances with the possibility of a cross infection from us to our kids, it has become prudent that they stay away from us for this period. We miss them and the normal family bonding we used to have.”
Q: What motivates you to continue working to provide care during this difficult time in Ghana?
A: “Just the fact that I’m well prepared by my training and prior experiences, and the fact that society is looking up to me to lead in this difficult time keeps me continuing what I do.
“The population has a lot of respect and expectations of me, and that alone challenges me to deliver.”