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Oneka passing on her knowledge, experience to a new generation

Oneka passing on her knowledge, experience to a new generation

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Even as the health sector is riddled with problems and is the target of public ridicule, Oneka Sergeant-Richards stands out as a symbol of hope that all is not lost regarding the provision of health care in the country.{{more}}

Whether she is stuck in the middle of the Rabacca Dry River with a woman about to give birth, or having to make three ambulance calls in a matter of hours, Richards says that this has helped her to build her own character and allowed her to appreciate the value of human life.

It was experiences such as these that Richards said made her the person that she is.

“Nurses have been receiving a lot of negativity, but persons don’t realize the conditions under which we work sometimes,” she said.

As an instructor at the School of Nursing, the thirty-year-old is now responsible for moulding minds and ensuring that the next generation of Vincentian nurses is ready for the task.

Richards has been a nurse since she was 18 years old, having entered the school of nursing in 2000, to pursue the registered nursing programme, which she successfully completed in 2003.

After her appointment in 2004, she served as a district nurse starting in Spring Village before moving on to other communities.

She returned to the classroom in 2005, to pursue the mid-wifery programme, before again returning to her task as a district nurse.

Richards left the field to pursue studies in nursing education at the University of the West Indies St Augustine campus in Trinidad, where she got a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing Education.

She was also the valedictorian of her graduating class in 2010.

But nursing has always been a passion of hers, she said.

“I always wanted to be a nurse,” the young woman said.

Richards said that she followed in the footsteps of her mother, who was forced to drop out of the school of nursing after becoming pregnant – this was in keeping with the policy of the day.

“Initially, I felt that I should finish that for my mom…it was more a desire to finish what she [mom] had started,” she explained.

Her grandmother was also known as the community midwife, although she did not have any formal training, Richards said.

“People would come to her when they were pregnant or sick…she had all sorts of herbal remedies.”

That was when the desire to become a nurse became a passion.

Her anxiety to become a nurse saw her making her first application at age 16, right after graduation from the Petit Bordel Secondary School, she said.

“But they politely told me I was too young,” Richards said.

She sought entry to the Division of Arts and Sciences of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Community College, as it was just being established, but was denied entry there too.

Richards said that she did not sit idly by, rather receiving training in carpentry and upholstery in her home village of Rose Hall.

She re-applied to the School of Nursing when she turned 18, and was accepted.

However, nothing prepared her for the next few years in her new career path, she said.

“I had a lot of theoretical experience, but very little hands-on practice and that was for me the biggest challenge,” Richards said.

She was sent to Spring Village and the patients were very skeptical about allowing her to tend to them.

“They would say she just come out de blue, she doh know nuttin’,” Richards said.

Others said that she was too young and it took Richards a while to establish herself in the community.

It would take the words of her grandmother to help her build confidence and ignore any thoughts of throwing her hands in the air and calling it a day.

“A person is not defined by what they do, when they are in particular area, but by how they are remembered…that used to be my watchwords,” Richards said.

She also recalled an incident when a patient came in with a laceration to the head, and although she had prior knowledge of how to treat such cases, she had never sutured a wound before.

An assistant nurse came to her assistance.

“And from there, I continued to grow and grow, and people in the community began to trust me, and with this, I was getting the experience and at the same time maturing and becoming more responsible,” she continued.

There were other challenges, the lack of resources, Richards said was a problem.

“You had to learn to improvise and use your initiative a lot of times,” she said.

Nevertheless, all these experiences have helped to make her a better nurse.

“The challenge was being able to relate to people of different walks of life and try not to let your personal beliefs get in the way…so that was one of the things I learnt,” Richards told SEARCHLIGHT.

Her stint as a district nurse in Sandy Bay was in the words of Richards, the most formative years.

It was there that she had to cope with leaving her family behind.

While there would be a district nurse at each clinic, Richards was the only midwife and would often be called to conduct ante and post natal clinics in all the communities that she was assigned to.

“Being out there, I realized that no one out there had my back,” she said.

There were times when she said that she felt like giving up, but Richards said that she took all the challenges in stride and believes that they have made her a better person.

“Not only have they made me stronger, but it showed me how to live within my means and to make the best of what I have under the given situation.

“I am one of the nurses who doesn’t go around bashing the system; I don’t think it takes me anywhere…I realize that certain circumstances exist and if I can’t make it better, I don’t engage in any negativity and that is me upfront,” Richards said.

Her colleagues have differed in opinion, she however explained, with many leaving the system and seeking employment elsewhere.

Community nursing is one important aspect of the health sector, and according to Richards, it comes under the bracket of primary health care.

“Primary health care services have a part to play in our general health of the country because we are dealing with preventative health care,” which she said she believed people should be engaging in.

Preventative health care Richards explained, can be cheaper for the country, as without primary health care, a hypertensive patient would not have access to blood pressure checks or 24-hour health care.

“A lot of people would often flood the accident and emergency and would bash the staff,” she said.

But many of those same people do not access the primary health care programmes in their community, she said.

“Sometimes they come to the A and E with common colds, swollen feet…things that can be handled at the district level,” she maintained.

Despite her passion for nursing and the wealth of knowledge and experience that she said she gathered over the years, Richards said that she made a decision to venture out of the field and get into the classroom.

She said that part of her decision came from what she was witnessing.

According to Richards, she was not seeing the humane side of many of the nurses that were graduating within recent times.

She does not blame this on the school, but said that generations were changing.

“We are dealing with a different calibre of youngsters than we did previously.”

December will be one year since she has been a lecturer at the school of nursing and although she said she misses the field work, she is now able to pass on her own experiences and passion for nursing to a new generation.

She currently teaches core nursing concepts, nursing research, basic elements of pharmacology and psychiatric nursing.

“I look for different ways for the students to get things done, than just doing it for an exam.”

And while she has a wealth of experience and is well qualified, Richards said that she does not anticipate leaving her beloved country, saying that she prefers to remain here and give back in return for all that she has received. (DD)

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