Apac, Uganda, nursing school director credits UCU for her impact
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2020/07/apac-uganda-nursing-school-director-credits-ucu-for-her-impact/
By Douglas Olum
While growing up in a northern Uganda village in the 1960s, Margaret Ekel admired nursing assistants who occasionally visited to interact with the people, including her parents, Tezira and Jeremiah Okot. As a young girl, she dreamed of becoming one of these smartly dressed, well-spoken medical people.
In 1968, after learning letter writing in her primary six classes, Ekel, then age 11, used that skill to begin applying to the Lira Mid-wifery Training School, seeking admission to the nursing program. Ekel overstated her age as 14. Unfortunately, because she lacked the minimum academic qualification for admission, she received a denial response with the word “regret.” As Ekel narrated this childhood memory in 2019, she could not help but smile.
“I didn’t understand the word ‘regret’,” she said, laughing.
To Ekel, that rejection was mere postponement of her admission. Her target was to get the ordinary level certificate, which she obtained in 1973. With that in hand, she applied for the nursing course while one of her brothers submitted documents on her behalf for the Laboratory Assistant program. She was admitted for both, but dropped the Laboratory Assistant offer.
After enrolling in the Masaka Nursing and Mid-wifery Training School in central Uganda program, Ekel encountered challenges with the practical side of learning, including the administration of injections to patients. Giving a shot was fearful as was dealing with death. When patients died, she hid inside a small room until the body was wrapped and taken away.
“Whenever I would lose a patient, I would cry with the relatives instead of simply empathizing with them as the profession requires,” she said. “I kept wondering why my fellow nurses would not drop a tear.”
With the help of tutors and colleagues, Ekel overcame these professional obstacles. With a midwifery certificate, she pursued a diploma in Nursing from Mulago School of Nursing and Mid-wifery before taking on a tutorship training course.
Realizing the gaps in the Uganda’s health sector, Ekel, who had worked in Government Hospitals, including at Nebbi Hospital in the West Nile region, knew that she could not do that single handedly. She opted for an early retirement from Government service as a nurse to pursue further studies so that she could influence the change she desires through imparting the knowledge and skills for a younger generation to close those gaps. So she decided to establish a school of nursing to train more Ugandans at certificate level in Apac District, Northern Uganda shortly after graduating from UCU.
Ekel received a Bachelor of Nursing Science degree from the Uganda Christian University (UCU) in March 2014.
“My training in UCU opened my eyes to see the profession from a different perspective,” she said. “I was taken through the details of essentials like nursing care and nursing problems – which deals with how nurses can connect emotionally with their patients, listen to them and discover problems that could delay their healing processes.”
A mother of five boys and a girl, Ekel, who is currently a student in the Master of Nursing Science program at UCU, is founder and director of Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Mid-wifery in Apac, northern Uganda. The school runs alongside a sister hospital, Nightingale Hospital, Apac.
Through her school and hospital, Ekel hopes to restore patients’ hopes in the nursing profession by restoring what she considers the lost image of the profession. Administratively, Ekel says her time at UCU has made her a leader with a difference because through the various fellowships and prayer sessions, she learned that it was important to involve God in everything.
“Seeing the Vice Chancellor go to eat with students at the DH (Dining Hall) taught me key leadership skills like paying attention to the people you lead, listening to them and being humble all the time,” Ekel said.
In August 2018, Ekel suddenly collapsed while she was interacting with visitors from Gulu Regional Blood Bank who had checked into her school. She was rushed to Nightingale Hospital in Apac, where she was resuscitated before being referred to Nakasero Hospital for CT Scan and Naguru Hospital for a surgical procedure. Investigations revealed that she had cerebral thrombosis, a blood clot condition in the brain, which meant the vein that supply oxygen to her brain was blocked and she needed to stay away from stressful and physically hectic duties. The condition is normally permanent in patients. Meaning she had to drop out of her masters program which she painfully did.
But to her surprise, about a year later, a doctor told Ekel that her condition had normalized. She remembers asking the doctor what could have healed her, to which the doctor reportedly responded: “Somehow God has planted a new vein to supply your brain.”
In April 2020, she was considering a return to complete her course with mostly individual research remaining.
Because of that miraculous healing, Ekel believes that: “When you are with Christ, it is different than when you are with the world.”
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