“What will serve you best as a nurse is the deep desire to care for the patient. You can have all the papers (qualifications) in the world, but if your attitude is not good, it will interfere with your eventual altitude. You will never rise.”
By Leon Suseran
Dedicated individuals in the health sector are hard to find these days. It is an area that constantly receives criticisms and harsh sentiments from the public at large, more or less due to the lax and sometimes impolite attitudes of some who are tasked with the delivery of healthcare services to us all.
This week we feature someone at the positive end of the spectrum; one who has helped deliver many among us, as a midwife. She is highly respected and her services valued. She has been described by many who have known her over the years as special. This column serves as a complementary narrative.
Pearl Pamela France Munroe, who started working as a midwife at age 19, is today still helping to mould the younger generation of employees in the health sector; teaching and training them and lending her invaluable experience by doing more administrative work in the Ministry of Health and School of Nursing, both in Georgetown and New Amsterdam.
She was born in Stanleytown, New Amsterdam to Security Guard, Joseph France and fruit vendor, Martha Bourne. She attended St. Therese’s Roman Catholic School after which she attended the Berbice High on a scholarship.
She related that she vividly remembers her school days. Little Pearl was always the teacher’s pet. She participated in numerous co-curricular activities at High School, including being a member of the choir and even playing an instrumental role in the original recording of the school song. Additionally, she wrote plays and poems. She was also a member of the folk group.
After writing her GCE Exams, she had to deal with the death of her mother. But she recalls handling the entire period very well since she always applied a popular Bible quote to her life pursuits (and which she still does today), “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”
When it was time to choose a career path, Munroe’s first choice was teaching at a school along the East Bank of Berbice. However, even though her application was approved, she changed her mind about the post, and never took it up due to the location. She then applied to become a nurse in 1974. She was propelled to join that field because, quite simply put, she wanted to help people.
A CAREER IN NURSING AND MIDWIFERY
And so it was that on May 6, 1974, Pearl Munroe commenced her career in nursing at the then location upstairs of the old New Amsterdam Hospital at Charles Place. She opted to commence studies for a Single Trained Midwife, after which she became a full- fledged practicing midwife, two years later.
Her tenure as a practicing midwife saw her having stints at various out-station health facilities across Regions Five and Six, including St. Lust, up the Berbice River; Port Mourant; Mahaicony; and Fort Wellington.
“It was challenging, especially the Berbice River—I don’t know if midwives would go there now,” she said.
“I travelled for over twelve hours in the MV Kimbia to get to St. Lust, where I lived for six months. I had a chance as a young person to work on my own, and then I asked the Administrator to send a Nursing Assistant to join me. So I had company. It was very interesting.”
She spoke fondly of delivering numerous babies and acknowledging the fact that she has many “big, big children.”
“So many parents bring their children up to me and say, ‘that’s the midwife who delivered you’. It’s such a heart-warming experience.”
Pearl decided to commence studies in the Professional Nursing programme in 1981. In 1984, she was registered as Staff Nurse/Midwife. She was also trained as a Scrub Nurse and worked from 1986 as Nurse-in-Charge of the Operating Theatre of the Skeldon Hospital. Being posted there resulted in her being away from home on a weekly basis. Her service and dedication to that facility earned her the ‘Best Nurse ‘Award from the Ministry of Health.
The veteran nurse, who has been training midwives since 1987, briefly expressed her concern as to why there are so many maternal deaths and caesarian sections today, as compared to her time.
“Quite honestly, I can remember one maternal death at New Amsterdam Hospital, where I cried for the woman—because she had a bleeding problem—but I don’t know what’s happening (today). It’s alarming.”
She believes it is the attitude of those in charge that is creating the problem. “Nursing is caring. Frankly, I am not seeing this caring attitude. I say to the students, ‘never leave a woman who’s in labour. If you leave them alone, then things can happen and you won’t know what to do in the case of a possible emergency.’”
MORE SERVICE TO NURSING SECTOR
Munroe completed her Health Sciences Tutor Programme at the University of Guyana and was later selected to teach nurses at the Nursing School in 1989. She held positions such as Tutor 1 and Tutor 2, after which she was placed in charge of the New Amsterdam School of Nursing from 2001 until 2008 when she was recommended to be the Principal Tutor of the Charles Roza School of Nursing in Georgetown.
“I used to be running both schools!” she asserted.
Since then, she has also been involved in marking exam scripts for student nurses and is an Examiner. Today, her work is not detached from the hospitals, as she regularly visits to see what her students are doing and how well they are doing it.
When asked to comment about the high failure rate of nurses, Munroe opined that there may be the need for better trained specialists to teach the nurses.
“In my time, while we were at the school, we had ten tutors, so you had more time to be with your student… and today the student population is also increasing,” she said.
Munroe has been a member of the General Nursing Council and regularly attends meetings. She is also the Chairperson of the Examination and Education Committee and a member of the Registration Committee. Additionally, she prepares and marks papers for all the general nursing programmes and assesses nurses too.
In 2009, she was appointed External Examiner of the Caribbean Nursing Exams in Jamaica. She currently serves on the Board of Davis Memorial Hospital, in Georgetown.
She has spent fulfilling years in the health sector and has not regretted a single day that she did not take up her teaching post when offered. “Regrets are extremely few…I love nursing.”
Commenting on the fact that nursing has come under heavy criticism in recent times, especially in the media, Munroe stated that she always hammers home the point to her students that nursing is about caring, and if you don’t care you will be face the proverbial fire..
“Sometimes you have got to put yourself aside, and put that patient in that place of relative comfort. It [Nursing] is being more patient-centred, not self-centred. You have got to put yourself in that patient’s place; if you were lying there (in the bed), what you would like to have done to you.”
She emphasised that while academic qualifications are good, they don’t necessarily help one to become an excellent nurse.
“What will serve you best as a nurse is the deep desire to care for the patient. You can have all the papers (qualifications) in the world, but if your attitude is not good, it will interfere with your eventual altitude. You will never rise.
“A good nurse is a good communicator. You have got to show love for people and communicate with them. The main point in communication is listening. Sometimes we listen just to talk back, but we really need to listen to hear clearly how we can help.”
Nurse Munroe related that if nurses possess love and care in their hearts, they can succeed in the profession. She urged that they give of their best, even in trying circumstances. “It can be quite difficult at times, but you cannot get upset easily. You must exhibit control!”
The ardent Seventh-day Adventist stresses that she has sought her best to put God first in her life and nurses today should do the same with their Creator.
“I know that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Since I have known myself as a midwife, I have learnt to pray before embarking on any venture, and it has helped me thus far. If we call upon God, there are certain things that we would not say or do or ways that we would not treat people. Nursing can never be about race, colour or creed.”
ACCOLADES AND AWARDS
During her career, Munroe has received several awards and accolades. In 2001, she received the Outstanding Adventist Professional Award, for a nurse whose life and works have significantly impacted the citizens of Guyana, from the Guyana Conference of Seventh- day Adventists in 2011.
She also received the Guyana Nurses’ Association ‘Nurse of the Year’ award in 2004. The Ministry of Health awarded her, too, for over ‘30 years of Committed and Dedicated Service to the Nursing Professional’ by way of the Guyana General Nursing Council, in 2009. The Caribbean Nursing Organization awarded her the ‘Nurse of the Year’ award, too, in 2006. During the International Year of the Nurse in 2010, the Davis Memorial Hospital presented Munroe with an award ‘In recognition of Long and Dedicated Services to the Nursing Health Education.’
Additionally, Nurse Munroe has attended dozens of health-based conferences, seminars and workshops, including in the Turks and Caicos Islands, Dominican Republic, Trinidad & Tobago, and an International Midwives’ Conference in Kingston, Jamaica. She also held the post of Chairperson of the Breastfeeding Committee in the 1990s, and chaired the Guyana Nurses’ Association’s Berbice Chapter. She is a staunch advocate of breastfeeding.
She has four children: Olsen, Karis, Shunae and Olette, and six grandchildren: Kirk, Kevin, Keola, Akela, Aaron and Keara. When she is not busy working, Munroe enjoys singing. “Music is my pain reliever—I sing and listen to music.” She loves attending church, too, of course. You would always receive a bright smile from Nurse Munroe, who acknowledges how tough it is sometimes, but as she right says, “a smile covers it.” She is really special.
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