In this exclusive interview with TEMITOPE OBAYENDO, Mrs Eno Bassey Okon, the nurse leader in charge of University of Calabar Teaching Hospital Isolation Centre, dismisses allegations of hostile and unprofessional behaviour by nurses in public hospitals. Okon reveals that while there may indeed be occasions when a few nurses exhibit unpleasant attitude, it is usually when they have been pushed to the wall. While highlighting situations that sometimes adversely affect nurses behaviour at work, she suggests ways to help nurses perform optimally and professionally at all times. Excerpts:
Please tell us about yourself – especially your educational background, experience, and positions held before now.
I will be 17 years in public service by 1 June 2021. I was born in Lagos State, Nigeria, where I had my primary education and concluded in Rivers State. Thereafter, I progressed for my secondary education. My training as a nurse commenced in Cross River State. Presently, I work as a registered nurse, midwife, public health nurse/IPC, with BNSC and MSc in Health Education in view. I am in charge of the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital Isolation Centre.
I have held several positions in social and religious organisations – too numerous to mention. I was a onetime NANNM unit treasurer, now NANNM unit chairman. I am an ordained Ruling Elder of the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria. Growing up was very eventful as I was very creative and loved doing things the formal way.
Recently, two nurses were assaulted at FMC Owo, Ondo State, by patients’ relatives, and that led to a state-wide protest. What is your view on the development and how can such be prevented in the future?
The case of assault on nurses in FMC Owo was such an unfortunate one. It is not peculiar to FMC Owo alone because it happens in many settings where people do not understand the line of communication.
The general public needs to be sensitised on how to relate with caregivers. It is wrong for a stranger to go into an establishment and take laws into his hands. There are rules guiding every operation. For instance, if you walk into a bank and you are not satisfied with the services, you have the right to see the manager or any relevant managerial staff to make your complaint, rather than take laws into your hands.
I think the same rule should guide the healthcare delivery system. If a patient or his relative feels neglected or not given the right attention by nurses in any hospital, they have the right to report to the hospital management, rather than creating chaos and battering nurses.
There should be public enlightenment programmes for the public to understand the hierarchy of leadership in the health sector; and the rights of the patients, as well as those of nurses, should be entrenched in the Bill of Right. Channels of complaints, and more importantly, civilised ways of doing things, should be well stipulated for all.
Nurses are human beings too; they deserve to be respected.
Year 2020 was themed the Year of Nurses and Midwives. Fortunately or unfortunately, it was the year of the global pandemic. What were the remarkable moments of the year among nurses and midwives at your unit?
2020, Year of Nurses and Midwives was quite a remarkable year for me as a person. It was a year of fulfilling the first line of our national pledge: “I pledge to Nigeria, my country”. Being at the frontline of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic was the best thing any citizen can offer his country. Nurses were always there 24 hours and 7 days a week. But, unfortunately, our dear country does not know how to celebrate nurses.
It was the same love and dedication Florence Nightingale exhibited. The Year 2020 was another history making event.
There is this perception about the attitude of nurses in public hospitals – that they are not caring enough. How true is this belief and what are the means to correct the situation?
This is not completely true. It’s quite unfair to generalise when referring to the deeds of a few. However, as a nurse who has also been a patient at one time or the other, I must be very candid. Firstly, Nigeria has not been able to meet up with the WHO recommended nurse-patient ratio in most of our public institutions. Nurses work under very harsh conditions most times with little or no motivation.
Training and retraining processes are low. There is also poor funding in the sector and lack of modern equipment to work with. The nurse is expected to be responsible for so many things outside his or her job description as a nurse. I will give you a typical example. A patient who has not settled or updated his or her hospital bill absconds from the hospital ward, and the nurse on duty is made to pay the bill.
This and many more are the reasons I’m sure some nurses especially those who seldom attend update courses due to lack of sponsorship cannot give in their best. Well, the way forward that I will recommend includes employment of more nurses in the healthcare system and sponsorship of nurses to training programmes/workshops.
Every stakeholder in the healthcare system should rise up to his or her responsibilities. For instance, if a doctor has any reason not to carry out a pre-planned procedure on a patient, he will do well to carry all team members along on this decision and explain same to the patient and relatives.
Communication is key in healthcare business. The nurses spend 24 hours with the patient and bear the brunt of whatever has not been done from patients and their relatives, whether the fault is theirs or not.
Again, when a patient is discharged and given a bill he or she thinks is too high, the first person confronted is the nurse, who after giving the explanations she can, refers the patient to the more appropriate quarters to lay his or her complaints. Sadly, the patient or their relatives get so upset. There should also be better remuneration for nurses.
It has been observed that graduate nurses are increasing in number by the day. Could you tell us the entry level for nursing in Cross River State public hospitals?
Entry point for graduate nurses is grade level 9.
Since you took over the leadership mantle of the unit, how would you describe the experience compared to other positions you have held?
I’ve always been a democratic leader. For my level of leadership, I get a lot of cooperation because I try to carry everyone along.
How would you advise nurses across the nation on improvement in practice?
I advise nurses nationwide to upgrade themselves with or without the support of the government. Where we are today is not where we are coming from. The older ones should mentor the younger ones. The nurse you mentor today may be the one to save your life tomorrow.
I appeal to the younger nurses: please be humble and respectful to your colleagues, clients, patients and their relatives. Anyone who walks into the hospital is already psychologically disorganised. We can help to make it better, not worse.