Nursing in West Africa

Have you ever wondered what your job would be like if the hospital you worked in had no modern pharmacy or lab? If the power source for the hospital was to shut off and a regular basis and not come on again for three hours? If none of your patients spoke your language? If … in an emergency, the most valuable resource was… you?

All of the above situations were common to my experience working overseas in Thies, the second most populated city in Senegal (Senegal is a French speaking country located in West Africa) during the month of December, 2009. I had been invited to come work at Centre Medical Bartimee, one of the large hospitals in Thies, by an English surgeon who works there several times a year. He had never been accompanied before by a nurse, and I had never been to West Africa, so I had no idea what to expect!

What I found at the hospital in Thies was an amazing staff dedicated to providing high quality care to their patients under circumstances most Western nurses and doctors could hardly imagine. Nurses functioned not only as caregivers at the bedside, but as expert consultants for cases ranging from tropical disease to chronic diabetes.

While the resources available were fairly limited, by African standards, Centre Medical Bartimee was considered advanced, with two operating rooms, a labor and delivery ward and about 40 medical surgical beds. Not only was the OR bustling with planned surgeries, but the second week of my stay in Thies brought many children in for cleft lip and palate repairs provided by the organization Smile Train. My experience as a critical care nurse bought me the role of recovery room nurse for the fourteen cases done over three days; my smallest patient weighed only 22 pounds! Watching children who had been afflicted with facial abnormalities (often times not only affecting aesthetics but also nutrition and speech) have a surgery which would over time transform them into beautiful, healthy kids was a humbling and life-changing experience.

Working in Senegal was an incredibly challenging, inspiring, and immensely rewarding experience. Thank you all for allowing me to share a bit about my experience and thank you so much to the fabulous CCU team who allowed me the time to participate in something so close to my heart. I sincerely hope that many of my fellow nurses are privileged enough to be volunteers around the globe in 2010.

Sharon Lockett, RN
Critical Care Unit, Level 7
Virginia Mason Medical Center

2010 International Year of the Nurse

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