Isabella Msolomba Musisi, principal and senior lecturerÃ‚Â at Saint John of God College of Health Sciences in Mzuzu, takes Albert Sharra through her long and diverse career in nursing, saving up to obtain her PhD in nursing science, sacrificing luxuries for the sake of self-development and raising her daughters to become strong, focused, empowered women
Who are you? Where did your journey begin?
I am Isabella Wayarelle Akunjawa Musisi (Nee Makawa). I am the fourth child and third daughter of late Mr. Isaac Samuel and Theresa Makawa; there were nine of us in the family. My father was a labour officer and my mum is a retired primary school teacher. I come from Kasalika Village, Traditional Authority Chimaliro in Thyolo.
I lost my first spouse, Phillip Hirario Msolomba in January, 1999. With him, I had three children; Dr. Bridget Malewezi, Late Tiyanjana Emmanuella Msolomba and Theana Anastanzia Msolomba. Currently, I am married to Raymond. M. Musisi.
I commenced my primary school education at St. Pius Girls Primary School in 1966, moved to Chitawira [in Blantyre] then Nachipere Primary School in Thyolo where I sat for Standard Eight exams and got selected to Stella Maris Secondary School in 1973 to do Form 1-4.
In 1977, I was selected to Kamuzu College of Nursing, thenÃ‚Â National School of Nursing, where I obtained a certificate in Registered General Nursing and Malawi Registered Midwife in 1980 and 1982, respectively.
What or who motivated you to work hard?
Growing up, my father inspired me very much. He showered me with small gifts and praises each time I excelled academically. He told me that there was no dull person in his family and there was no reason for me to fail any school exam.
He convinced me that people who fail exams are lazy. He never wanted any of us to attain double numbers such as position 10 and above. Consequently, I was always among the top nine during my primary and secondary school.
My father was also a serious disciplinarian who inspected our daily school work. He was a family man who never drank beer and was always available for us at home. He always told us nice stories about himself and his family tree, which meant that we missed him very much when he was away.
Because of the way in which he raised us, I too made sure I spent quality time with my children. I implemented the same things with my children, such as inspecting their work and giving them gifts for academic excellence. I read them books when I was on day shift and did everything I could to motivate them into working hard.
I thank God for my father because from him, I learnt to be hard-working, focused, assertive, principled and a disciplinarian to some extent.
How did you progress up the career ladder?
I started off in 1982 working as a nursing sister in the delivery ward at Chatinkha Maternity wing, Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital. I worked within different wards at the hospital until 1991, when was granted a scholarship to pursue a Bachelors degree in Nursing education, administration and Community Health at Medical University of Southern Africa (Medunsa)in South Africa.
At this time, I also worked at Soshanguve Community Hospital in Pretoria from 1991-1993. I obtained my degree in 1994 and came back home. I was then deployed as a nursing officer at Blantyre District Office for two months, focusing mainly on rural community health services such as out-reach programmes, family planning.
This also included immunisation, antenatal clinics, nutritional rehabilitation clinics and treatment of minor ailments. From 1994 to 1996, I worked as Nursing Officer (PO) in administration, responsible for the medical unit, paying unit and coordination of community health services at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital.
You seem to have been involved in a lot of things at the same time…
Yes, I was. In 1996, I coordinated the initiation of the nursing school training programme at Malawi College of Health Sciences – Blantyre campus under the leadership of Dr. Annie Phoya. I worked on the nurse / midwife technician curriculum development for the school.
At the same time, from 1996 to 1999, I worked as the head of nursing / midwifery department and lecturer in community health and general nursing science at Malawi College of Health Sciences.
From 1996 -2001, I was also a co-opted member to Nurses and Midwives Council of Malawi as an external examiner for the registered nurses final examinations. From 1997 to 1998, I led and successfully coordinated the team in the development of the registered nurses upgrading curriculum for Malawi College of Health Sciences-Blantyre Campus.
In February 1999, I secured a government scholarship under African Development Bank (ADB) and registered for a master of science degree in nursing at Medunsa. During that time, I also worked part-time for Intern Nurse Agent in Pretoria, South Africa in nursing in intensive care unit, high care units and community health related programmes-(like HIV and Aids, sexual reproduction health).
I was sent to work at facilities like Pretoria Academic Hospital, Pretoria Heart Hospital, Pretoria Urology Hospital and Met Forum Private Hospital. I graduated in 2000 with a thesis on the role of traditional birth attendants (TBAs) in rural Malawi.
Did you come straight home after this?
Yes, I did. I worked with the Malawi College of Health Sciences as a senior community health lecturer.Ã‚Â From July 2001 to January 2002, I worked with Save the Children Federation (USA) Balaka office as a sexual and reproductive health senior trainer for child survival programme.
In 2003, I resigned to pursue my Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing Science majoring in community based neonatal health care and midwifery at Medunsa, now University of Limpopo. While in South Africa, I taught nursing and midwifery students at Medunsa and Healthicon Private Nursing College.
I obtained my Doctor of Philosophy in nursing qualification in May, 2007. Currently, I am working as a college principal as well as a senior lecturer in health research, community health and health service management at Saint John of God College of Health Sciences. I am also one of the executive managers of St. John of God Community Services, Mzuzu, Malawi.
What exactly do you do in your current position?
I am the overall team leader of the college activities in both administrative and academic issues. This is a managerial post but I also teach some courses since I work in an academic institution. My duty is to ensure the effective and efficient implementation of curricula for all the three programmes running at the college. I lead the academic team in planning, organising, and implementation. I supervise control, monitor and evaluate daily, monthly, quarterly and annual activities conducted at the college.
What are some of the challenges you face?
Being a speciality course at bachelorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s degree level, I am only allowed to hire lecturers with a minimum of masterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s degree. This cadre is costly and their demands are high. Therefore, we hire most of them on a part-time basis which, to them, is also an extra curricula aspect. As a result, they are not readily available for my students as full-time lecturers.
We also have to fit into their programmes and not the other way round, which is very difficult. We also face challenges in attracting potential students for our programmes because mental health is not as marketable as reproductive health.
You have had a long and colourful career in nursing, what are some of the highs?
In 2004, I successfully initiated the implementation of bachelor of science in mental health-psychiatric nursing programme in Malawi. This was the first of its kind as it is a nursing speciality programme. Presently, the college is offering the programme to the fourth cohort.
In 2007, I successfully led and facilitated the development of bachelor of sciences in clinical medicine (Mental Health and Psychiatry). The programme was affiliated to Mzuzu University in 2008 and it is being offered to the second cohort now.
In 2008, I facilitated the development and design of the upgrading of the university certificate to university diploma level which commenced in 2010.
How about the lows?
After I wrote the Malawi Schools Certificate of Education (MSCE), some of the credit scores given to me were not what I had expected. I thought I would get distinctions in biology and physical science but scored credits instead. I cried about it because I was not selected into the course I initially wanted. At the time, my plan was that I would pursue a general degree at Chancellor College and go on to become a secondary school biology teacher.
Instead, I was selected to go to the National School of Nursing, now Kamuzu College of Nursing.Ã‚Â Secondly, when I lost my second daughter to rabies in 1996, life was not the same. She was bitten by a rabid dog and there was nothing to reverse her condition. I went into depression. I remember people prayed for me to accept the situation.
My spouse quickly noticed my prolonged grieving process and asked friends and family friends to counsel me. I benefited greatly from these counselling sessions as they also helped when I lost Phillip in 1999.
What would you say is the secret to your success?
Knowing myself, my strengths, capacity and areas in which I need to double my efforts. I have learnt to sacrifice luxury time Ã¢â‚¬â€œconsuming activities and discipline myself for the greater good. As I always say, I would rather suffer now and be at peace later, when I have achieved a lot more.
Other qualities that have helped me reach this far are; my Christian life, and prayer, which consoles me when times get hard. Also, I always plan my life ahead; I always have a list of what I would like to achieve within a particular period.
For instance, I planned to save funds for my further education (PhD. Programme in RSA) which I did. I resigned from a well-paying job to join the programme, which wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t easy, even though it was worth it. I thank and praise God for guiding me through lifeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s journey.
What accolades have you received for your nursing work?
I have received several accolades, the most recent are ; On 23rd June, 2010, The Saint John of God Hospitaller Services Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Ireland, gave me an Innovation Award 2010 and a certificate of recognition for displaying innovation through my project titled- Ã¢â‚¬Å“Optimising Clinical Mental Health Care Providers to Improve Quality of Care in MalawiÃ¢â‚¬Â.
On 27th November, 2010, The National Organisation of Nurses and Midwives of Malawi (NONM) awarded me with a certificate of recognition for outstanding leadership and for successfully holding the position of NONM president (2006 to 2010).
In December, 2010, the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) and Southern African Network of Nurses and Midwives (SANNAM) awarded me a certificate ofÃ‚Â recognition for involvement and leadership to the Southern African Network of Nurses and Midwives.Ã¢â‚¬Â
What qualities would you like to pass on to your children?
I would like to pass on to them the spirit of having a prayerful life. I would like to see them as individuals who are assertive, visionary, focused, disciplined and principled in their plans. I want them to be empowered and independent.
How do you unwind?
During my free time, I like telling jokes or short stories to make people laugh or smile. I also like reading books and listening to local and international music. I am a big fan of romantic reggae music. My favourites musicians are Mlaka Maliro and Black Missionaries. On the international scene, I love Gregory Isaac and Lucky Dube.