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Meet Mabel Magowe, a nurse midwife and leader for our times

Nurse Mabel Magowe, a leader for our times

Nurse Mabel Magowe, a leader for our times

The World Health Organization has claimed 2020 as the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife. As part of the combination advocacy and awareness campaign and celebration, Emory School of Nursing and Emory Healthcare will be holding a high-power speaker series, and Mabel Magowe will be first up on January 22.

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This nurse is having quite a year herself. Now an instructor and administrator at the University of Botswana, in 2008, Magowe earned her doctorate of nursing from Emory on a combined Fulbright and Nell-Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing scholarship. When she visits Atlanta in January, she will also receive Emory's Sheth Distinguished International Alumni Award.

Her decades of work history include clinical care as a nurse and midwife, service on government policy task forces, developing family planning policies and procedure manuals, reviewing midwifery curricula, and developing a national program for prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Botswana. She has also collaborated or educated nurses for several universities, including Sefako Makgatho Memorial University of Health Sciences in Tshwane, South Africa; the University of South Africa; the National University of Science and Technology in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe; and Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences in Tanzania.

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Asked about the high point of her career so far, she answers, "I think I am at it now. I have just recently been promoted to the position of the Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at my university, and I will be receiving this Emory International Alumni award," she explains. "That’s big for me. I have received several awards, but this one is the epitome of them all."

Her career path started in grade three, when a teacher asked class members what they wanted to be when they grew up. "I said I wanted to be a nurse," Magowe recalls. "This may have been motivated by my aunt, Mrs. Idah Magogwe and my mom’s friend Mrs. Raborokgwe. These ladies were my best examples because they used to nurse in a businesslike, graceful manner and seemed to know exactly what they were doing. The idea stuck in my head and I carried it through my high school. We used to have Fancy Dress competitions where we would dress to depict personalities or a nationality. I played a nurse in full uniform and won the competition. Some of my role models at this time were Mrs. Moanakwena, who borrowed the uniform I wore, and Mrs. Mokgele."

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Though it's been decades and Magowe did much of her higher education in the States, she still remembers and cherishes all her many positive influences on this hard-driving journey. Her first admired role model was her mother, who persevered through bringing up 10 children solo after Magowe's father passed away in 1973. "We all grew to be responsible adults," Magowe remarks.

Her high school principal, David Maine, also played a part. "He really instilled a sense of responsibility in us and supported our career goals. His words of wisdom have stuck in my mind, 'Do right and fear no man.' So I strive to always do the right thing without fear or favor."

In nursing, Magowe says she looks up to professors Serara Mogwe, Sheila Tlou, Esther Seloilwe and Professor Naomi Seboni. "Each of these ladies has one or more things in their professional lives that they were the first to do," she says. "They are my inspiration to be an achiever, not necessarily to be the first because they have already done it, but to be the best I can in what I do." She intones the names of other role models in clinical practice, like her midwifery mentors Lucrecia Koodibetse, Mrs. Matome, Mrs. Morewane, Mrs. Seitei and Masego Sebeo, along with Mrs. Kewakae, Mrs. Tadikwe and Mrs. Siviya.

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Now Magowe is the mentor and the voice, and she has a strong message for ears opened by the Year of the Nurse: "Nursing knowledge needs to be developed at a level comparable with any other professions," she says. "The nurse of today must have matching qualifications with other health care cadres, to discuss patient care at the same level of intellect. The current situation really puts a nurse at a level where they are possibly viewed as the messengers of other health professionals who make all the decisions. This poses a risk of inter-professional conflicts and blurred roles and responsibilities where nurses are no longer sure of their focus. The expansion of roles is sometimes too much to fit within the working day of the nurse, and remuneration does not keep pace in most instances."

Magowe has been so busy for so long without giving in to burnout, but she says that's still a looming threat, for her and for all nurses and nurse midwives. To keep from succumbing to burnout, Magowe changed her lifestyle. "I adopted a healthy diet. I now do moderate exercise, walking for 30 minutes at least three or four times a week, and I get a full body massage once every two weeks," she says. "I make time for family, especially my grandchildren, because it helps me relax and laugh. I fall asleep early and go early to work so I can achieve my targets for the day. Personal time is critical for all nurses. We must be able to take time off to be away and to relax."

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Along with individual efforts, Magowe speaks up for improved working conditions for nurses worldwide. "Nurses need a lot of emotional care to withstand the increasing demands of caring," she adds. "We need to strengthen that aspect of the career with financial support. I really advocate for improving working conditions, increasing training in both quantity and quality, and deploying adequate numbers of nurses in health facilities."

Magowe would also like to see a global push to "consolidate the science of nursing, harness expertise that is available to develop the profession. Invest in research to shape the profession and improve client care. And advocate for higher education as opposed to perpetual short-term non-degree training."

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During her own quest for higher education, Magowe says there are a few things she wishes it had been possible to do differently. "I would have probably sought schools of nursing where I could have entered directly into a bachelor's program and proceeded with graduate work and anchored my research interests very early in life," she explains. "Instead, to proceed all the way to PhD, I spent so much of my life learning, 14 years, with breaks in between waiting for the next opportunity."

But regrets? None at all, she says. "Nursing has its own challenges that are beyond the imagination of any young, motivated novice nurse. The increasing burden of disease, sometimes working in crowded environments with shoestring budgets and meager resources are all really daunting to a nurse's desire to be simply the best. But nursing is the best profession. It touches everyone to the core of their hearts and as a nurse and midwife, I have the pleasure of serving people, which is what I love."

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