Lessons from the E.R.: A Taste of the UW Hospital

Mwanja Mwale is a passionate social worker with eight years of experience in her practice. She currently works with the Department of Social Welfare, where she runs Zambia’s only residential rehabilitation center for female juvenile offenders as well as other children in need of care.

There I was in the emergency room hooked to a monitor and responding to a set of questions from eight different medical practitioners. I had the feeling of nostalgia as two of my friends waited for me. I kept asking myself whether I was really sick or this was standard procedure. At that point, I would have given almost anything to be home, with my family. I was extremely anxious and I was beginning to regret going to the Emergency Room. Was this really worth it?

Mwanja Mwale. (Photo by Meagan Doll)

Three hours before visiting the ER, a sharp pain in my chest had jolted me out of bed and I gasped for air for some good two or three minutes. The pain was short-lived but its impact still lingered on my mind. I got back into bed and after an hour, the same pain woke me up again. This time, I knew I had to act. I called a Fellow who is a medical practitioner in his home country but by the time he came to check on me I was pain free. He checked my vitals and everything seemed to be okay.

A few minutes later, I decided to have myself checked just in case there was something seriously wrong with me. So, that is how my friends and I went to the University of Wisconsin Hospital’s emergency room. The series of events that followed after our arrival at the reception shall forever be engraved on my mind.

I could have sworn that I was attended to in less than a minute! Yes, that is how long I waited, if that qualifies as a wait. Just at the reception, someone was checking my vitals while another was taking my personal information. Before I could take a seat, the doctor had come out and called my name. I was moved from one room to the next for different types of examinations. From one machine to the next I was moved and blood samples were collected in between. Within an hour, I had come in contact with eight different medical practitioners who each asked me the same questions but each in a unique way. It dawned on me that they were simply trying to rule out any inaccuracy in their attempt to make a diagnosis. In total, seventeen lab tests were done and after two hours I was discharged!

It was only after the whole ordeal that I got to appreciate what I had gone through. The thoroughness of the service provision was well-coordinated. I am not a health practitioner but I was very impressed with the whole process and I was able to draw some lessons from the experience.  From the waiting time to the courtesy of the personnel (to my friends too!), to the comfort given, to the treatment and finally to the flow of information, I was in awe.

The take-home lesson for me as a Mandela Washington Fellow in the Public Management track will be serving people in the most efficient and effective manner.  I have performed really well over the last few years in terms of ensuring quality service provision in my field, but the ER experience inspired me to be even more diligent and endeavor to act in the best interest of the clients.

As leaders, we should be able to exhibit good leadership qualities that entail giving our work the best we can and increasing our performance standard. We should be able to advance institutions that will operate with personnel that work towards a common goal: to serve humanity.

The University of Wisconsin Chancellor Rebecca Blank’s profound address to all the Mandela Washington Fellows still resounds in my mind. She stated that as leaders, it was paramount that we surround ourselves with individuals who share a common mission. She further stated that managers or leaders should be able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of those that surround them so that people are better placed in areas that will help them deliver their best. Additionally, systems in place should ensure that personnel are supported so that the best output is realized. These nuggets of wisdom were not entirely new to me but their message was so well packaged that they struck a nerve.

The above-mentioned sums up the lessons or values I have had the privilege of learning, revisiting, analyzing and embracing for the past five Tuesdays at the Leadership Institute at UW-Madison. Values such as self reflection, being visionary, serving humanity, promoting supportive structures, being consistent, being strategic and upholding collectivism were thoroughly discussed proved to be beneficial. I learned a lot from all academic staff, peer collaborators as well as all the Fellows. I am well-vested in issues in health, politics, education, law, communications, agriculture and climate change all because of this wonderful team. As I return home, I am taking with me a wealth of knowledge and skills which I have accumulated and I am looking forward to increasing the impact of my work on the different categories of people I work with.