International Nurses Day (IND) is celebrated around the world every May 12, the anniversary of Florence Nightingale's birth. As the years roll on, the day has evolved into an occasion to honour the significance of nurses to the well-being of humanity. The theme for IND 2019 is “Nurses: A voice to lead - Health for all”. With that in mind, it was imperative to speak to a nursing leader who embodies the year’s theme of leadership and is doing her part to bring health coverage to as many people as possible.
Meet Jane Wanyama, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Aga Khan Hospital Kisumu. In 2010, Jane was heading the maternal and child health programme at the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) in Nairobi, when she was featured in a short article for the Daily Nation entitled “At home baby care”. In the article, she advised mothers on how to take care of their babies and spoke on breastfeeding and hygiene while handling babies. Today, Jane is CEO of Aga Khan Hospital Kisumu. In 2017, she was featured in an article in Business Today entitled “New Sh5b health facility opened in Kisumu”. This time she spoke on the enhancement of public-private partnerships and promoting healthy populations.
The Aga Khan University School of Nursing and Midwifery in East Africa caught up with Jane in May 2019 to understand what motivates her and what her experiences have taught her. Jane’s story is one of learning, overcoming challenges and always working to be an inspiration to women: “My connection with the Aga Khan community has made me what I am today. It has played the biggest role in my life by providing an environment that was conducive to learning. AKU helped me unleash my potential and demonstrated to the world that women can be both exceptional nurses and voices leading in the boardroom.”
Here is the full interview:
At what stage were you in your nursing career when this photo was taken with His Highness the Aga Khan in 2009?
I was a Registered Nurse with a degree in Maternal and Neonatal Nursing. I had been a nursing leader for nine years as the Program Administrator, Maternal and Child Health Programme at the Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi.
What aspirations and hopes did you have for yourself at that time?
I wanted to rise to a higher position in the hospital’s administration. I knew that this would be possible if I enhanced my management skills and got more exposure on the job. I was hoping to be a member of the Senior Leadership Team of a healthcare organisation first as a Chief Operating Officer, then as the CEO.
Seems like you knew what you wanted for yourself. What did you want for your community and the people around you?
Traditionally, the roles of girls and women in Kenya have been restricted when it comes to contributing to decision-making. This is clear when it comes to matters around development, especially in the area of health. We’re not allowed to make decisions on our own health to a large extent. At that time, I saw myself as a living example of the untapped potential of women and girls in Kenya. I was also convinced that hard work with the right attitude would pay as long as I remained committed to giving my best at work. If I saw every opportunity as a chance to learn, I knew I would achieve my dreams. I wanted to show that investing in girls and women is not a waste of resources.
How about the world? Is there anything you wanted to show the world at that time?
The public does not always value the skills, competencies and capabilities of nurses. I felt a strong urge to improve the public image of the profession as well as to ensure that we took up stronger positions in healthcare organisations, especially in the boardrooms as decision makers.
That sounds like a heavy load to carry. How did you manage to do that?
I felt that as a practising nurse, midwife and nurse leader, I was able to touch lives of women in the childbearing and rearing stages, as well as young professionals in Kenya’s healthcare industry. In order to get to the boardroom, I recognised that I had to continue with my education. I also discovered that it is important to work in a challenging environment that encourages nurses to take on strategic positions. In this way, I used my professionalism to show the public and the management why it is important to have a nurse in the boardroom.
Where are you now in your life and nursing career? Have you achieved your aspirations and hopes – both personal and beyond?
While I am at a peak in my nursing career, I am still convinced that I have not yet arrived. With my passion for women’s health, I hope to occupy a position of influence in advocacy and policy development for women in all stages of life. I have considered enrolling in an institution of higher learning to pursue either Medical Law or Population Health. I aim to reach greater heights and wish to become a beacon of influence in my personal sphere. The sky is the limit.
Has the Aga Khan community played any part in your success?
My connection with the Aga Khan community has made me what I am today. It has played the biggest role in my life by providing an environment that was conducive to learning. The formal and informal trainings I received, coupled with exposure to the Integrated Health System with the Aga Khan University (AKU) in Karachi, has not only given me a wealth of knowledge and experience but also sharpened my clinical judgment, critical thinking and leadership skills. AKU helped me unleash my potential and demonstrated to the world that women can be both exceptional nurses and voices leading in the boardroom.