Meet the wonder nurse

Some say the nursing line of work is very boring while others say it is a very tiring profession that one can never enjoy. Paida Mpaso talks to a nurse lecturer at Kamuzu College of Nursing Evelyn Chilemba who shares her passion for the job and her fears when she first joined the profession.

Who is Evelyn Chilemba?

I currently work as a nurse educator at Kamuzu College of Nursing. I am married to Mr Joel Chilemba—a self employed engineer—and together we have two children. I grew up in Lilongwe with my mother. When I was in standard five, my parents got divorced, that is why most of my life was spent with my mother. I attended Dzenza Primary School and Bwaila Secondary School where I was selected to go to the then Blantyre School of Nursing.

Tell me about your nursing career?

From Bwaila Secondary School I went to Blantyre School of Nursing where I studied a Diploma in Nursing. I completed my course in 1980. The following year, I started a year long course in midwifery at Kamuzu College of Nursing in Lilongwe. After school, my first posting was at Ntcheu District Hospital where I was put in charge of a female ward, then later moved to a children’s ward. I have always loved nursing such that while I was working in Ntcheu, I was given a scholarship to study for a degree course at the University of Southern Africa funded by the Malawi government. After some years I went back to do my Master’s degree. Right now, am studying for my PhD at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa through correspondence.

What do you remember most while working in Ntcheu?

While working in the children’s ward, there was a measles outbreak and I remember a mother lost two of her children to the disease and was about to lose the third one who was then 12. I remember the look on the mother’s face, she was devastated at the loss and worse still, this third child was unconscious. The care of the child was left in my hands, I remember my professor’s notes about people who are unconscious, and all I did was put the little boy on a drip and treated him by using sodium bicarbonate. Within minutes the boy was conscious. The mother was happy at the same time sad at her loss. It was a sad situation but at the end of it all, I was happy to have saved the boy’s life.

What was growing up like?

I was the second born in a family of eight, our upbringing was rather tough. I, however, was a quiet girl and very reserved. What I knew best was to work hard in class and that’s what I did.

What were you parents doing?

My father was an accountant working for Mount Soche Hotel. After he divorced my mother, he went and lived in the United States with his new wife. My mother was just a house wife.

Was it a personal experience that made you join the nursing profession?

Yes, I believe it was. When I was in secondary school, I had a friend who was constantly getting sick and because we were close, I took care of her on a daily basis and I believe it was from this that I developed a passion for nursing . As a nurse, I believe I am on a mission as I love to serve and save human kind. Since joining this profession over two decades ago, I have grown to love the profession more and more.

People say most nurses are rude and unprofessional?

I believe that the nurses who are rude are especially those who joined this profession not for the passion but for other reasons best known to themselves.

Is there a way out to solving the attitude problem?

There is need to strengthen the leadership in our nursing colleges. Even if we can have one nurse against 2 000 patients, if that nurse has the knowledge base, he or she should be able to exercise their skills without any problems. The people who are at the core of teaching nursing students should also use the best innovative ways of teaching.

Do you think the country is in the right direction when it comes to solving the shortage of nurses?

Yes, for the past years, government has been responsive. Looking at the number of nursing students who were admitted to nursing colleges in the past and now, it seems things have really improved.  As a country, I feel we need to find a way of retaining our nurses.

How do you react to atrocious nurse’s behaviour in hospitals?

With grief and disbelief at the same time. The word nurse in my opinion stands for Nearness Understanding, Responsive, Sensitive and Empathy, which means if I claim to be a nurse I must have all these attributes.

Appropriate measures need to be taken to address this problem because it’s a major concern. When I was the vice chair of nurses and midwives council, I always took such matters seriously and punished nurses accordingly.

Tell me about the organisation you are heading in this country

The organisation is called Sigma Theta Tau International based in the United States of America. This is an Honours society of professional nurses founded in 1924 in Indiana University by six nurses who had outstanding academic performance in the nursing profession. The aim is to expand knowledge and improve the world health. It provides nursing leaders, education research and scholarship grants to those in the health profession.

How did you come to join this organisation?

From 2005 to 2008 I was the dean of the nursing faculty at Kamuzu College of Nursing. So in 2008, a certain doctor, Maureen Chirwa from the College of Medicine introduced me to a certain professional who was the president of the organisation, her name is Professor Lina Ess. She told me about the organisation, we did the necessary paper work and that’s how the organisation came into being. It was easy for me to be their leader because of my proven track record.

How does one join this organisation?

There are two ways; you could either be invited as a student or as a professional nurse, however, students are invited based on the initial grades or graduate nursing preparation.

Why should one join this organisation, what are the benefits?

Joining this profession signifies your commitment to excellence in your chosen profession and acknowledges your academic or professional achievement.

Do you have to draw certain lines between your work and your family?

If I have to grow professionally I need to balance my family, school, work and more. As a mother, I need to spend some time with my children, as a wife I need to be there for my husband and as a teacher I need to provide my students with the best tutorials. Currently, I am also studying for my PhD though correspondence and as a student I need to perform. All these need special planning if I am to succeed.

Describe your average day?

First of all, I read my Bible and plan what I am supposed to do for my house, then plan for my teaching lessons for my students.

Were you scared when you first joined the nursing profession?

I was scared of dead people, I couldn’t face or touch a dead body but with time I realised that a dead person is dead and that they have no powers over you.

Any effects that have come as a result of working in the hospital?

Yes, because I stayed in the baby’s premature ward for a very long time, taking care of them and washing their plates, I fail to drink milk. I don’t know why but I can’t take tea with milk.

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