Prof Pauline Samia, interrim chair, department of Paediatrics and Child Health
Prof Pauline Samia, a Paediatric Neurologist and Interim Chair, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health has been with AKU for 10 years . She believes that a formal and vibrant mentorship programme can encourage women to participate in research and leadership training. As we celebrate Women’s Month, she gives her two cents on women empowerment and how her leadership was critical during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Have you actively played any empowerment role in your department?
Definitely yes. I have encouraged equal participation of all faculty in our department in administration and leadership by assigning roles and responsibilities which when achieved collectively, allows the department to fulfill its overall mandate of a “Children’s Hospital within a Hospital.” This means that everyone has an opportunity to make a difference and contribute to the growth and transformation of AKU Medical College, East Africa in their own unique way.
How did the pandemic disrupt your work and plans?
The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact in our department immediately the first case was confirmed in Kenya in March 2020. Two conferences which were scheduled to take place in Quito, Ecuador in March and London in early May had to be cancelled. We were not able to re-schedule both conferences until this year and they will be done virtually. In addition, all academic meetings for both local and international were either cancelled or moved to virtual platforms. This was a significant drawback because in-person meetings provide an opportunity to discuss ongoing research projects and educational plans and it also enables brainstorm sessions which is critical in learning.
How did you manage to get things going during this time?
On the clinical front, the immediate response from our patients was avoidance of the main hospital where I primarily run a busy paediatric neurology service. The numbers fell to about a third of the normal caseload though the admitted patients with emergency requirements continued to visit the hospital as usual for about a month before the numbers dipped too. The clinics remained open all through the lockdown period, which was a great help for patients who needed urgent attention. This was an advantage to the patients because they could now be attended to immediately instead of the usual two-week waiting period.
How long did it take you to manage the disruption?
Within two weeks into the pandemic in March 2020, we had a meeting as a department and resolved to move teaching sessions to virtual platforms to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to both our faculty and residents. We also resolved to double our efforts to reach out to our patients and encourage them to continue the care provided given that we have a large cohort of chronic care patients under different subspecialties in our department. Residents in our department are usually assigned to specific clinics and they were very instrumental in reaching out to our patients and encouraging them to continue with their patient care. These interventions were highly appreciated by parents who obtained clarification directly from the doctors regarding the safety and availability of our paediatric services.
In addition, we also provided facilitation letters to allow families navigate through the lockdown period travel restrictions to allow for in-person visits. We also commenced tele-consultations, which were very popular with our paediatric neurology patients because this allowed them to continue care while still located in different parts of the country and the Eastern African region. Importantly, we have continued tele-consultations even post lockdown, though in-person visits have returned to close to regular levels. Efforts to remain in touch with our patients and continuation of paediatric services allowed for faster recovery of clinic visits post lockdown and into the new year. Faculty were phenomenal in their willingness to continue educating the public regarding clinical operations during the pandemic as well as the need to continue vaccinations services and prevention of common childhood aliments.
What was the impact of your input?
Despite the concerns related to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I took the bold decision to operationalize our fellowship programmes in paediatric neonatology and neurology as scheduled in April 2020. The former Dean, Prof Robert Armstrong was very supportive of the decision and looking back, this was a bold step because the quality of services improved in the department for both subspecialties and there was improved support for the resident’s clinical functions overall. With the COVID-19 pandemic still with us, we are planning to refine and expand the fellowship programmes because we now understand the process better and we have learnt our lessons.
What were the key lessons from this?
The key lesson for me and my team during the pandemic can be summarized using these words; “courage and agility under fire.” We understood that we had fears for our own safety and contracting the virus as well as that of our patients and their families but we also understood that disrupting clinical services and teaching was not an option. We owed it to our supportive residents to continue the mentorship journey and provide care for our patients. We moved quickly to adjust processes, such as clinic schedules to promote social distancing as well as moving vaccination and baby clinics off campus to our Muthithi Outreach Clinic. We appreciated the value of teamwork and having to cover for each other during sick-offs and absences occasioned by effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Importantly, our department has revamped the resident mentorship programme to ensure consistent support for them especially during the uncertainties brought by the effects of the pandemic. Our faculty are supportive of the monthly mentee meetings to ensure none of the residents are left behind in this noble initiative.