Why Care and Compassion Are Core Leadership Competencies

Since I began my Global Health Corps fellowship journey, I have come to agree with Paul Farmer’s saying that “Global health is not just about acknowledging the suffering of others, but it’s about saying, ‘Well, how much of this suffering is premature or even unnecessary, and what might we do collectively to lessen it?’”

I am realizing that we are all affected by the health of the communities around us — everyone benefits from healthy and happy communities. It is our responsibility to ensure the wellness of the global community. We all must work together towards this goal. Someone somewhere needs our attention, needs our time, and needs our smiles and our encouragement. I like to ask myself:

How will you meet their needs if you do not know them?
How will you know them if you do not ask questions?
How will you listen deeply if you are not compassionate and caring?

Having never been in a hospital setting before, I feel privileged to learn about what people go through and realize how much our communities need compassionate people. Doing clinical work with Partners In Health has opened my heart and my eyes — I cry often.

After a two week orientation, I joined the mHealth Project team based at Kirehe Hospital in the Eastern Province of Rwanda. I was anxious about the new area and tasks, and about being far from my co-fellow and other friends I had made.

Holly and co-workers after training surgical health workers. Photo credit: Brittany Powell

However difficult it was, I was open to learning and immediately started thinking about the ways I could make an impact in this new place. I was thrilled to find the community and staff so welcoming. I got introduced to the team and did some home visits to learn about the work and its impact in the community.

The mHealth study aims to determine the effectiveness of community health workers’ use of mobile technology to improve the identification of surgical site infections. The study mainly looks at patients who undergo surgery in rural hospitals in Rwanda. We collect demographic data, extract chart information from patients’ files, and coordinate follow-ups within seven to thirteen days post-operation to monitor the healing of surgical sites of our patients.

A number of patients come to us with infected wounds. On my first day, I got so nervous that my heart was pounding and I did not know how to handle it. Putting myself in their shoes was so painful, and I ended my day feeling anxious and unwell.

As I spend more time in the clinic, however, I notice my anxiety subsiding. Recently, I was with the doctor in the consulting room. A young woman whose wound was painfully infected was re-admitted for follow-up and treatment. I really felt for her and became very emotional. Fortunately, through the treatment, she was much better in a couple of weeks. Later on the same day, I went to meet more patients for study enrollment and the majority were so excited to be part of the study.

Holly at work. Photo credit: Brittany Powell

I remember one patient saying “ There is nothing that happens without a reason. I have overstayed in the hospital because of financial challenges, but God wanted me to get such an opportunity. Thank you so much for helping us.” This was so inspiring to hear. Another patient said “…it is not my first time to be part of a PIH project, and I can witness how helpful they are to poor, vulnerable people in community. I can’t afford missing the follow-up day — I will keep it in mind and come.”

The communities we are living in need understanding people with humor to bring light to them in dark situations. One light can only shine in one specific area but more than one can shine further. So let our collective lights shine far and near, banishing the darkness.

All these were encouraging messages and they helped me to see a big picture of mHealth. When I smile at patients and ask how they are, it makes my day to see them smile back. And I think it make their days, too. When I interview patients, I find that they have a lot to share about their life challenges. Often, it seems that they need someone to listen to them, understand compassionately what they go through, and find ways of helping out.

The communities we are living in need understanding people with humor and compassion to bring light to them in dark situations. One light can only shine in one specific area but more than one can shine further. So let’s come together so that our collective lights shine far and near, banishing the darkness.


Holly Louise Irasubiza is a 2017–2018 Global Health Corps fellow.

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