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The Promise of Better Health Worker Education with Launch of New Kenya Center

Last week, I visited the Kenya Medical Training College, about 200 miles east of Nairobi, for the opening of the Kitui Centre of Excellence for Family Planning and Reproductive Health, covered in a recent article, “Kitui Opens Model Family Planning Centre.” To me, this new center is a revolution in pre-service education and shows our commitment to providing high-quality training in family planning and reproductive health. I was joined in my enthusiasm for this new center by Professor Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, the Kenyan minister for medical services as well as many other senior government officials, partners, and colleagues who attended the event.

The new Centre of Excellence will support faculty at the Kenya Medical Training College (KMTC) to explore, develop, and apply innovative teaching methods in the instruction on reproductive health and family planning. The Centre will also offer critical training in reproductive health and family planning to nursing and medical students working in public, private, and faith-based organizations. It is my hope, and that of many others involved in the Centre’s launch, that the Centre will also offer ways to help health workers bridge the gap between knowledge and practice—meaning between what they learn in the classroom and what they see in the clinic—and that they can use their experiences in the field of reproductive health to improve their competency and performance.

The new Centre is drawing support and creating collaborations among many groups involved in health education. For example, the professional councils for nurses and clinical officers are involved in reviewing and revising the family planning component of the Centre’s curriculum. KMTC faculty members will participate in periodic pre-service and in-service family planning and reproductive health training at the Centre to brush up on their skills. The Centre is also contributing to regional knowledge sharing networks, including the Eastern, Central, and Southern Africa–Health Community (ECSA-HC). The new Centre offers promise for the future of reproductive health work and training for Kenyan health workers, and it has been a project that was many years in the making.

One of the major milestones in moving towards the realization of this center happened three years ago under IntraHealth International’s previous global project. In 2008, the Capacity Project teamed up with the ECSA-HC to organize a contraceptive technology update workshop in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, for midwifery tutors, with USAID support. This workshop really highlighted the fact that faculty in the region needed more support and the latest evidence on family planning to effectively teach students in pre-service education programs.

Recognizing this gap, IntraHealth and ECSA-HC conceptualized the Centre of Excellence and began collaborating with a number of other groups such as the KMTC’s central administration, representatives of the Nursing Council of Kenya, staff and faculty at the college’s clinical practice sites, as well as the administration and faculty of Kitui campus. Following an assessment of the KMTC’s organizational and institutional needs, the newly created Capacity Kenya project acted on some of the recommendations including developing an e-Learning system and skills lab and beginning the work of creating the Centre.

The second milestone in the lead up to the launch of the Centre was the Performance Needs Assessment conducted by the Capacity Kenya project, the Ministries of Health in Kenya, and key stakeholders in the health sector. Next month, we will release the final results of this assessment, but one of the immediate findings is that training institutions, like the KMTC, need better resources. It is a need that the Capacity Kenya project is working to meet by improving the facility here and helping transform this campus into a model for other Kenyan training institutions.

As a part of this work, project staff has been collaborating with the college staff to improve the school’s information technology infrastructure by providing a server, computers, a LAN (local area network), and other equipment.

In collaboration with KMTC and the Ministry of Health, the project has also worked to better coordinate national health training systems and support the development of pre-service and in-service education and continuing professional development programs. The African Medical and Research Foundation has also partnered with IntraHealth and supported KMTC to:   

  • Identify gaps in the family planning and reproductive health training and assess faculty needs
  • Assess and revise the family planning and reproductive health curriculum and convert it into an e-learning module
  • Identify, develop, and apply innovative and information, communication, technology-based teaching methodologies  for family planning and reproductive health services
  • Build the capacity of the KMTC faculty to use e-learning in their instruction and
  • Support the launch of the Centre of Excellence

Finally, recognizing that for health workers, especially, learning doesn’t occur only in the classrooms, the Capacity Kenya project is partnering with the University of North Carolina, School of Nursing to work with KMTC-Kitui staff to build better skills labs and provide students with better clinical placements so that students have more opportunities to practice and learn the skills they will need in the clinic.

At the event last week, I watched the ministers keenly and patiently listen to the students skillfully explaining the family planning and reproductive health procedures on a tour of a skills lab and seek clarification at every work station. These interactions left me with no doubt that the Centre for Excellence had just secured a commitment from the highest level policymakers and will have a major impact in Kenya. It showed through, too, in the off-the-cuff speeches that the ministers made later that day; they even insisted on the promotion of one the lecturers, who displayed unique clinical tutorial skills, and the ministers then sponsored a special dinner for all students that evening as appreciation. The Centre for Excellence is truly a milestone in the health sector.