Lucy Mkandawire Valhmu is a researcher, mentor and award winner whose work leans towards advancing the needs, welfare and health of the African woman.
She mentors doctoral nursing student and doctoral students in other fields at the university where she works—University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) USA.
Currently, she is based in the United States of America (USA) together with her Liberian husband and children. She is an Associate Professor at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the college of nursing.
Lucy also mentors undergraduate nursing students interested in global health and women’s health. This, she says, has been a really rewarding and meaningful experience in her career.
She was awarded for hard work and determination with the Daisy Award for Extraordinary Faculty (2014), Excellence in Education Award Sigma Theta Tau Eta Nu Chapter and New Investigator Award College of Nursing.
Even though she stays in the US, she has not forgotten her roots in Malawi. She builds capacity to retain Malawian and Kenyan girls to school.
“There are a number of girls I mentor in Malawi. Many of them are still in secondary school, but want to go into nursing. Some of them are already in nursing school and I relish the privilege to do that. I lead a study programme to Malawi where I take students from the University of Wisconsin to Malawi. So, sometimes girls in Malawi have an opportunity to interact with our students, which gives everyone a very rounded experience,” Lucy said.
Born on December 20 1975, she is a first-born daughter of three children to Professor Richard and the late Rose Mkandawire. Her dream was to become a journalist because she loved writing and storytelling.
She did her secondary at Likuni Girls Secondary School and later got her Diploma in Nursing at the University of Malawi’s Kamuzu College of Nursing (KCN) in 1995.
Lucy then did her Bachelor of Science in Nursing and Master of Science in Nursing (New York) from Syracuse University in 1998 and 2000 respectively. In 2006, she got her PhD from University of Wisconsin-Madison.
During the time she was graduating from secondary school, she realised that female journalists were not a thing in Malawi and was discouraged by her family.
She confessed that she never thought of becoming a nurse because she grew up with the late Raphael Tenthani [a journalist] in Lilongwe and they used to write poems and short stories as children.
“I always teased him about his success and often tried to make him feel guilty because we started out together and he managed to fulfil what we both always wanted to do.
“I lived vicariously through him. He was a good friend and I miss him a lot. But my career as a nurse has been fulfilling, too, especially because I have the opportunity to write—writing is, in fact, central to my career. So, in reality, I did not lose out on anything,” she said.
Lucy enjoys writing, which she says is useful in enhancing the health and wellbeing of women of African descent, especially the women of Malawi.
“My research is focused on the impact of gender inequalities on women and community health. So, I write a lot about that and provide policy and health recommendations based on my research findings and other scholars’ ideas. So, apart from contributing to the advancement of scientific knowledge that would enhance better health outcomes for women and their communities, I enjoy helping students to also forge their own career paths, especially if they share interests similar to mine,” she says.
Her recent study focused on the health and wellbeing of women at end of life in rural central Malawi.
Says Lucy: “We have two publications in press from that study, one in review and two others we are finalising. In this last study, we found that a lot of caregivers for women at end of life were their daughters or granddaughters. This has obvious implications for the health and wellbeing of girls and so we felt it was important to get their perspective, especially on what community supports would be most valuable in enabling them to continue with their education.”
She revealed that her passion on violence in the lives of HIV-infected women is because; in most of her studies she finds that violence is a factor that not only has implications on women’s health and the health of the community, but it also hinders women’s ability to effectively contribute to the national economy.
“My goal is to contribute, through my research and informing policy and health and community level interventions that address problems such as violence, which adversely affect women’s health outcomes and ultimately affect every one of us in society,” she adds.
Lucy teaches qualitative health research to doctoral students and some of her students nominated her for the Daisy Award a few years ago.
Her passion for writing gives her an opportunity to share findings with other scholars, policy-makers and healthcare providers in practice.
“In so doing, my hope is that my work somehow contributes to informing healthcare practice and policy that would be beneficial for women and communities. Through my teaching, I am able to share my experiences with my students and hopefully contribute to helping prepare them for a successful career ahead,” says Lucy.
She says her family is the biggest factor that helped her to be successful in life.
“My father once told me that if something ever happened where for some reason, I did not make it in my career, I should remember that I could always come home. That has really helped me because academic life can be stressful at times, but I know it does not define me. So, when my manuscript is rejected or I apply for funding and I don’t get it, I’m quickly able to move on to the next item on my agenda knowing that there will always be other opportunities for me. And if all else fails, I can always go home,” she says.
The nurse observes that as a Christian, her faith is the foundation for her life.
She also acknowledges her professional relationships as equally important.
Lucy says being a career woman is not easy, but she tries to spend as much time with her children as she can because she knows they will not be always be with her.
“My husband and I are active members of our church here in Madison and so we enjoy serving at church together. A lot of what I do at church is actually closely related to my professional work—connecting people with resources in the community, bringing people together around a common cause, serving people to ensure that their wellbeing is enhanced. So, that’s how I’m able to balance work and family. A lot of my professional work is related to what I enjoy doing in my personal,” she concludes.