In any profession, mentorship and knowledge sharing are at the heart of empowering good workers to become great ones. This is especially true in the medical field, where skilled practitioners are responsible for providing exceptional care to those who need it most. In 2022, when the Africa Mercy® visited Senegal for a 10-month field service, over 50 medical professionals participated in training and mentorship programs to hone their skills and improve patient care. The very last of these professionals was Sawdiatou Mbodji, who joined the ship’s nursing team for one month of mentorship.
A seasoned nurse with two decades of experience, Sawdiatou seized the opportunity to see surgical care through a different lens. “I know that this will help me,” she explained. “This was a new opportunity for me to work with people from different countries, and also, to improve my skills.”
She originally entered the medical field because of a childhood dream to become a midwife. Along the way, Sawdiatou discovered that being a nurse under the Senegalese healthcare system necessitates being a “jack of all trades” fit for assisting with everything from pediatric to plastic surgery. Over the course of her career, she has moved fluidly across emergency, general, operating room, and paramedic nursing.
When the Africa Mercy returned to Senegal in 2022, Sawdiatou was working at the Idrissa Pouye General Hospital in Senegal’s capital city of Dakar. She learned from her supervisor that the hospital ship had docked at the port just five miles south. Given the opportunity to come on board and keep expanding her skills, Sawdiatou chose to take the leap.
On board, Sawdiatou tended to maxillofacial patients, recovering from operations that removed large tumors or repaired cleft lips and palates. Among her patients was a 13-year-old boy named Daouda.
For years, Daouda had endured a painful facial tumor that hampered his ability to eat and speak. His father, Hamady, had brought him from hospital to hospital, and even country to country, in search of surgical care. They ultimately found it after many years on board the Africa Mercy.
The bond between this father and son struck Sawdiatou as something truly special. She remembers seeing “the facial expressions of his father” from her time on the ward caring for Daouda, saying, “he was really happy and amazed by the healing of his child by Mercy Ships.” As the nurse with a front row seat to Daouda’s journey, she marveled that “his healing process was really like a miracle for his father.”
While Daouda’s condition was not new to Sawdiatou, the role she was playing felt unique.
“I’m used to working with patients like this. What I find a bit different is the way that we treat them.”
The high-resource nature of the Africa Mercy meant that Sawdiatou cared for fewer patients than she was used to. Tending to one to four patients at a time, instead of up to 20 as she was accustomed, allowed her to venture beyond her basic duties of checking vital signs, performing wound care, and taking blood samples.
This opportunity to build relationships with each person under her care shifted Sawdiatou’s perception of nursing.
“I learned that healing patients goes beyond clinical care. For better healing, there are other sides that we must consider, for example checking if the patient is eating normally. Nutrition is very, very important, as is the psychological side of healing—making the patient feel at ease and talking with the patient. Feeling joy can help with recovery.”
The holistic approach was energizing for this long-time nurse: “It really motivates you. It gives you a love of working.”
Although she did not live on board during her time with Mercy Ships, instead commuting from her home in the suburbs of Dakar, Sawdiatou was further struck by how she integrated with her international colleagues.
“It was a wonderful experience because I was working with people coming from all around the world. I found things here to be organized well and people have good communication, so it is easy for someone to come from outside and fit in. They are open-minded here, and they help each other, so it is very wonderful.”
When the Africa Mercy finished her work and departed Senegal, Sawdiatou returned to her hospital with a new lease on her livelihood, eager to report back about different methods and implement a deeper focus on whole-person patient care in her workplace.
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