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Nurses and Stories Are a Powerful Combination

Samalie with clients

Samalie with a small group of clients. Photo courtesy of Samalie Kitooleko

In Uganda, one nurse is changing the face of nursing leadership. Meet Samalie.

Samalie Kitooleko wants you to know that nurses are independent professionals who undergo years of education and do not simply take orders given by doctors. She should know. She’s one of them.

In fact, Samalie is “changing the face of nursing leadership in Uganda to one of a confident, critical thinker who takes initiative and leads by example.” Those are the words of her supervisor, Dr. Chris Longernecker.

Samalie is also one of twelve women who will be honored tomorrow ahead of the World Health Assembly in Geneva at the Heroines of Health Gala Dinner. Samalie will add storyteller to her resume as she shares the story at the gala of her endless support for her clients.

She is one of several health workers trained by IntraHealth International and Medtronic Foundation in effective storytelling.  Policymakers need to understand what is actually needed to support health workers’ roles in health service delivery, and powerful storytelling can help convey just that.

Samalie’s nursing journey started over two decades ago. For the last 15 years she has worked at the Uganda Heart Institute, rising through the ranks from a smart and conscientious nurse taking care of clients with chronic cardiovascular illnesses to a leader and trainer of health workers—and a strong advocate for patient-centered care.

There’s always something that you can do for a patient.

She understands that care is not just about the treatment, but also about building relationships with her clients, being there for them, listening to their stories, explaining their conditions and treatment, welcoming calls at 3:00 in the morning, or making follow-up calls when they miss an appointment.

“The best thing about being a nurse is seeing someone coming to the hospital very sick and seeing that person going home with a smile on their face,” Samalie says.

Resolutely seeking these smiles, she championed the formation of a national patient support group for young women living with rheumatic heart disease and also holds leadership positions on other projects at the Uganda Heart Institute.

Being a nurse, particularly in a resource-limited setting, comes with challenges. Cardiovascular diseases require a lot of medication, which poorer clients often can’t afford. Though Samalie can’t help them financially—and doubtless she would if she could—she does provide the social support her clients need, even if that requires showing up at their houses. Somewhere, somehow Samalie finds a way to care for them.

“There’s always something that you can do for a patient,” she says.

At the World Health Assembly, Samalie aspires to convey the crucial role that nurses can play in bridging communication gaps between health workers and clients. Often, clients have difficulty understanding their illnesses or treatments, which can hinder the condition. By sharing her story she hopes to inspire stronger policies that facilitate access to the medical treatment women from poorer social backgrounds deserve.

Working with Jeff Polish, a storytelling coach, taught her to translate her experiences into carefully crafted narratives that will touch and stay with her audiences. “Samalie is pretty incredible, if you ask me,” he says. We completely agree, Jeff.  

Hear Samalie Kitooleko speak at the Heroines of Health gala and reception hosted by Women in Global Health and GE Healthcare on May 21 ahead of the World Health Assembly. Co-sponsors of the event include IntraHealth International, the Frontline Health Workers Coalition, Global Health Council, the United Nations Foundation, Women Deliver, and the Global Health Centre at the Graduate Institute, Sweden.