Improving patient care in Sierra Leone

Nurses are vital components in the treatment and recovery of hospital patients. In Sierra Leone, where many hospitals lack basic supplies and equipment, even a good bedside manner can mean the difference between life and death.

Thirty-nine year old Fatmata Kanjia is a final year BSc nursing student at the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Sierra Leone. One of her teachers was UK nurse and VSO volunteer Joanna Haworth. Here Fatmata, who also works part-time in a Freetown hospital, explains how Joanna's training has helped her, her patients and her family.

“Joanna taught us many things that have helped me provide better care for my patients, such as ward administration, staff supervision and infection control,” Fatmata said. “For example, before we never checked if junior nurses had completed their tasks. Now we supervise them properly and provide a proper handover to the next shift to make sure all patients receive the care they need.”

The importance of talking to patients

Fatmata sees communication as one of the greatest skills she has learnt from Joanna. “Before I used to sit and talk to the nurses. Now I go to the bedside and talk to my patients. Some unfold problems pertaining to their care that they have not disclosed to their doctor.”

“There was a patient with acute abdominal pain but she was afraid to explain the circumstances of her condition to the doctor. She didn't want people to know,” Fatmata explained. “I read through her charts and history and I talked to her. She was bold to tell me that she had done an abortion three months before but she did not want me to tell anybody. I urged her to let me tell the doctor because he was treating her blindly. She consented but only if the doctor agreed not to tell her husband. He agreed and her treatment was changed.”

She added: “Two weeks later the patient was discharged. If I did not speak to her and gain her confidence she would not have recovered.” When Fatmata told her student colleagues about her experience, many said they had had similar experiences following Joanna's teaching.

Taking new skills home

Fatamata's new skills are also benefiting her family. “I use many of the things I have learnt from Joanna at home. For communication, you need to interact with people. If you have a problem you should share it, you should speak to your partner. My daughter asks so many questions. I used to say leave me. Now I listen to her and try to explain and answer her questions.”

Joanna’s work continues

Hospital patients will continue to benefit from Joanna's teaching long after she returns to the UK.  “All of us on the course are teaching our colleagues the things we have learnt from Joanna,” Fatmata said. “I want to transfer my knowledge to other nurses to improve their skills and improve patient care across many hospitals. With their mission of sharing skills and knowledge, VSO provides long term benefits to Sierra Leone as a whole.”

How to apply

Interested in volunteering with VSO? Find out what you need to apply and begin your application process now.