Five Effective Ways Healthcare professionals can manage patients and create a more positive care environment.- Katherine Onyezim


Let’s get to meet you. Please tell us about yourself and your background.

Certainly! My name is Katherine Adamma Onyezim, and I was born in Lagos State, Nigeria. I am the second child in my family, and growing up in Lagos was an enjoyable experience. As the only girl, I received a mix of pampering and discipline from my parents. They believed in the value of instilling discipline and never shied away from using disciplinary measures when necessary.

I completed my primary and secondary education in Lagos State, which laid a strong foundation for my academic journey. It was during this time that I developed a passion for science, particularly the intricate workings of life at a molecular level. This passion led me to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry at Adekunle Ajasin University, Ondo State, Nigeria.

After obtaining my undergraduate degree, I felt the need to enhance my understanding of business and management principles. This led me to pursue a Master’s in Business Administration in Zaria, Kaduna State. This educational experience broadened my horizons and equipped me with valuable insights into the world of business, strategic planning, and organizational management.

While I found great satisfaction in the business world, my desire to contribute to public health and make a positive impact on people’s lives prompted me to further my studies. I pursued a Master of Science degree in Public Health in the United Kingdom, focusing on healthcare systems, epidemiology, health promotion, and disease prevention. This international exposure provided me with a broader perspective on public health challenges and effective strategies to address them. Throughout my educational journey, I have gained a diverse set of skills and knowledge that I believe will enable me to excel in various professional capacities. I am passionate about combining my scientific background, business acumen, and public health expertise to drive positive change and improve the well-being of individuals and communities.

Can you share with us the things that inspired you to become a healthcare professional? In your career path, what has been the biggest professional challenge for you, and how did you overcome them?

There were several factors that inspired me to pursue a career in the healthcare profession. From a young age, I had a deep-rooted desire to make a positive impact on people’s lives. The healthcare field presented an opportunity to directly contribute to the well-being and quality of life of individuals and communities, which resonated strongly with my personal values.

 Witnessing the healthcare system firsthand, both as a patient and through the experiences of my loved ones, played a significant role in shaping my career choice. These encounters highlighted the importance of compassionate and competent healthcare professionals who can provide effective care and support during times of illness or injury. They ignited a strong sense of empathy within me and reinforced my determination to be part of the solution.

The dynamic and evolving nature of healthcare also captivated my interest. The constant advancements in medical technology, new discoveries, and innovative treatment approaches fascinated me. I wanted to be part of a field that is at the forefront of innovation, research, and progress, constantly striving to improve patient outcomes and overall healthcare delivery.

 Moreover, the interdisciplinary nature of healthcare was another driving force for me. It brings together various disciplines, such as medicine, biology, psychology, and public health, allowing for collaboration and integration of knowledge from different fields to provide comprehensive and holistic care. The opportunity to work alongside professionals from diverse backgrounds and contribute my own expertise was a motivating factor in choosing a healthcare career.

Lastly, observing the existing health disparities and the immense challenges faced by communities around the world further fueled my determination. I wanted to be part of the solution and contribute to efforts aimed at improving healthcare access, reducing health inequalities, and addressing public health issues on a broader scale.

Combining my passion for science, the desire to make a difference, and a commitment to lifelong learning, I chose a career in the healthcare profession. I am enthusiastic about leveraging my knowledge, skills, and compassion to positively impact individuals, communities, and the field of healthcare as a whole.

Certainly! I’ve encountered several notable challenges throughout my career journey, and I’m happy to share how I overcame them.

The first major challenge I faced was convincing myself to pursue a degree in Biochemistry, even though I had initially aspired to study medicine. Like many aspiring healthcare professionals, I had a strong desire to become a doctor. However, circumstances led me to consider alternative paths. It was a difficult decision, as I had invested significant effort and fought hard to pursue a medical career. Overcoming this challenge required a mindset shift and a deep reflection on my passion for science and the potential impact I could make in the field of Biochemistry. By acknowledging the valuable knowledge and opportunities that Biochemistry offered, I was able to embrace the discipline wholeheartedly and find fulfillment in its study.

The second significant challenge I encountered was transitioning from the healthcare field to business and finance to fit into Nigeria’s labor market. After completing my Master’s in Business Administration, I made the decision to pursue the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) qualification from the foundation level. This unexpected shift allowed me to gain a solid understanding of business and finance principles, which proved to be valuable in navigating the professional landscape. However, during my preparation for the skills level exams, I faced a personal tragedy with the loss of my father. This devastating event led me to reevaluate my path and make the decision to leave for the United Kingdom.

The third challenge arose during my pursuit of a Master of Science degree in Public Health. The shift from a predominantly exam-focused academic approach to essay writing and research proved to be a significant adjustment. Unlearning the habits of exam preparation and shifting my focus to critically analyzing and effectively communicating my knowledge through essays required dedication and adaptability. I overcame this challenge by seeking guidance from professors, honing my writing skills through practice and feedback, and immersing myself in the study of public health concepts and research methodologies.

Each of these challenges required resilience, adaptability, and a willingness to embrace new perspectives. By approaching them with determination, seeking support and guidance when needed, and leveraging my passion for learning, I was able to overcome these hurdles and continue progressing in my professional journey.

Most professionals have had the opportunity to have been mentored by one or two people, can you share one or two people that have made an impact in your career

My late father is my greatest icon and has had a profound impact on my career. His guidance and support were instrumental in shaping my choices and driving me toward success. It all began after my national service when I was living in Abuja. My father called and told me to return to Lagos, which initially made me sad. However, a few days later, he called back and presented me with an option: either return to Lagos or pursue a postgraduate program, emphasizing that he wanted me to stay focused and minimize distractions. This conversation served as a pivotal moment for me, giving me the push and clarity I needed to make a decision I had been struggling with.

During this time, I reached out to a friend I had met during my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) camp named Sam, an alumnus of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. I asked him to assist me in purchasing a postgraduate form to study public health. However, he informed me that it was a full-time course and I decided to pursue an MBA instead. I enrolled in an MBA program. Completing my MBA, though fulfilling, eventually led me to seek new challenges.

Recognizing my inclination towards continuous learning, I reached out to my father to let him know about my intention to register for the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN). He was delighted and encouraged me to pursue it further. The journey was arduous, with lectures scheduled every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 5 pm to 8 pm, as well as extensive weekend sessions from 8 am to 7 pm. Despite the challenges, my father’s unwavering support and encouragement kept me motivated. I would leave the office at 4:30 pm to drive to my lectures, demonstrating the dedication and commitment required to balance work and studies.

After successfully completing my Foundation level exams and progressing to the skills level, I, unfortunately, experienced the loss of my father. This event deeply impacted me and prompted me to make the decision to leave Nigeria. Nonetheless, the foundation he had laid and the inspiration he provided continue to guide me in my professional pursuits.

While my late father has been the most influential figure in my career, my mum has supported and prayed for me along the way. Her guidance and encouragement have played integral roles in shaping my professional journey. She has helped me to navigate challenges, broaden my perspectives, and provided invaluable advice at crucial junctures.

How would you compare the healthcare system in Nigeria with developed countries? What areas do you think the government needs to improve on?

 The healthcare system in Nigeria, like many developing countries, faces unique challenges and opportunities. It’s important to note that each country has its own distinct context and healthcare landscape, so comparisons should be made with caution. However, I can provide some general observations and areas where the Nigerian government could focus on improvement.

  •  Access to healthcare: One of the key areas that require attention is improving access to healthcare services for all citizens, especially those in rural and underserved areas. Nigeria has a large population, and ensuring equitable access to quality healthcare remains a significant challenge. Strategies such as strengthening primary healthcare infrastructure, expanding health facilities, and implementing outreach programs can help bridge the access gap.
  •  Healthcare infrastructure and resources: Adequate healthcare infrastructure, equipment, and supplies are vital for delivering quality care. Investment in building and upgrading healthcare facilities, ensuring the availability of essential medical equipment and supplies, and addressing healthcare workforce shortages are crucial areas that require attention. This includes efforts to attract and retain skilled healthcare professionals, particularly in rural and remote areas.
  •  Health financing and insurance: Nigeria faces challenges in healthcare financing, including limited public spending on healthcare and inadequate health insurance coverage. The government should prioritize increasing budgetary allocations to the health sector and exploring sustainable financing models, such as universal health coverage, to ensure that healthcare services are affordable and accessible for all Nigerians.
  •  Health information systems and data management: Strengthening health information systems and data management is essential for evidence-based decision-making and monitoring health outcomes. Improving data collection, analysis, and utilization can help identify health priorities, track progress, and inform effective healthcare policies and interventions.
  • Health promotion and disease prevention: While healthcare services are crucial, equal attention should be given to health promotion and disease prevention. The government should invest in public health programs that promote health education, preventive measures, and community-based interventions. This includes initiatives to address communicable diseases, non-communicable diseases, and emerging public health threats.
  • Collaboration and coordination: Enhancing collaboration and coordination among various stakeholders, including government agencies, healthcare providers, NGOs, and the private sector, is essential for a well-functioning healthcare system. This can help optimize resources, improve service delivery, and foster innovation in healthcare.

It’s important to acknowledge that transforming a healthcare system is a complex and long-term endeavor that requires a comprehensive and multi-sectoral approach. Engaging stakeholders, prioritizing investment in healthcare, implementing evidence-based policies, and ensuring accountability are crucial steps in improving the healthcare system in Nigeria.

It’s normal for healthcare officers to encounter different kinds of patients, including those who may be frustrated and difficult to engage with, how do you manage such people?

 Encountering patients with different emotional states and challenges is a common occurrence in healthcare settings. Effectively managing individuals who may be frustrated or difficult to engage with requires a combination of empathy, effective communication, and problem-solving skills. Here are some approaches I find helpful:

Active listening and empathy: It’s essential to actively listen to patients’ concerns and empathize with their frustrations. By demonstrating genuine understanding and acknowledging their emotions, you can help establish rapport and build trust. Validating their feelings and letting them know that their concerns are being heard can go a long way in diffusing tension.

 Remain calm and composed: It’s important to maintain a calm and composed demeanor, even in challenging situations. Responding with patience and empathy can help de-escalate the situation and create a more conducive environment for communication and problem-solving. Keeping in mind that the patient may be going through a difficult time and that their frustration may not be directed toward you personally can also help you approach the situation with empathy.

  •  Effective communication: Clear and effective communication is vital in managing difficult patients. Use simple language and avoid medical jargon to ensure that patients understand their condition, treatment options, and the rationale behind your recommendations. Allow them to express their concerns and actively address their questions. Taking the time to explain procedures, risks, and benefits can help alleviate their frustrations and increase their confidence in the healthcare process.
  •  Collaborative decision-making: Involve patients in their care decisions by encouraging their active participation. Explain the available options, provide them with information, and engage in shared decision-making whenever possible. This approach empowers patients to feel more in control of their healthcare journey, reducing frustration and resistance.
  •  Problem-solving and seeking solutions: Approach challenging situations as opportunities to find solutions rather than viewing them as confrontations. Work together with the patient to identify the root cause of their frustration and explore potential solutions. By involving patients in problem-solving, you foster a sense of ownership and partnership, leading to better outcomes.
  •  Seek additional support if needed: Some situations may require additional support, such as involving a senior healthcare professional, a counselor, or a patient advocate. Recognize when it may be necessary to seek help from colleagues or other professionals to address complex emotional or behavioral challenges effectively.

Remember, each patient is unique, and approaches may need to be tailored to their specific needs and circumstances. By approaching challenging patients with empathy, effective communication, and a problem-solving mindset, healthcare professionals can create a more positive and collaborative care environment.




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