Involvement in the Uganda Palliative Care Nurse Leadership programme, led by Prof Julia Downing and Dr Mhoira Leng, prompted a series of personal firsts, including a first visit to Africa and first involvement in an international programme.
Key to the programme is the modelling of nurse leadership through creating mentor relationships with programme participants to aid the development of palliative care across Uganda.
Drawing on established skills in the delivery and organisation of palliative and end of life care, I felt equipped for the role of mentor while being aware of the potential personal learning this experience could provide.
The purpose of my two-week visit was to meet and lay foundations for the mentor relationship with three programme participants/mentees.
Two of these are palliative care nurses at Hospice Africa Uganda in Makindye, an organisation providing community and day care services along with education and international mentoring. The other is a senior nursing officer in Kalongo Hospital, a 271-bed private community hospital in the northern Agago district of Uganda.
Time spent with each mentee provided an appreciation of their role and the provision of palliative care to patients and their family at home, in day care and in hospital.
My visit coincided with the programme participants – 20 in total from many regions of Uganda – travelling to Kampala for five days in class, which was the second of three weeks of class content planned for the project.
This enabled meeting each participant alongside contributing to teaching and facilitation of sessions in class which added richness to my overall experience.
Developing an appreciation of the important role nurses play in the provision of palliative care in Uganda prior to the trip was useful, not only as a base to build on as I learned more, but also to help provide some understanding of the situations I encountered.
During clinical visits, whether to the patient’s home, in day care or in hospital, my frame of reference required frequent review. Evident, however, is that while the mode of delivery and available resources may vary, the essence of person-centred palliative care does not change whatever the context or country.
I witnessed excellent examples of care delivery when resources were at a minimum or not available. The values expressed by healthcare professionals, patients and families were humbling and have left me with much to consider.
As a mentor my role remains to facilitate and encourage the mentees in their individual projects, aimed to advance palliative care practice in their work area, and now in the national project that they are undertaking as part of the leadership programme.
For me, this role continues remotely from Scotland with my colleague, Erna Haraldsdottir, who will travel to Uganda later in the year to provide additional face to face mentorship.
This ‘first’ not only allows me to contribute to a programme essential to the development of palliative care in Uganda but has provided more valuable personal learning than I could ever have imagined at the outset.
The nurse leadership fellowship programme is funded as part of a grant from DFID UK through the Tropical Health & Education Trust (THET) to a partnership led by the Global Health Academy, University of Edinburgh with Makerere University and the Palliative Care Association of Uganda (PCAU).