Health event in the streets of Nairobi. Joan Musau measures a child\'s weight. Children and mothers watch.

November 22, 2013

One grad's career decision was a real bombshell

For some people, it’s a crisis that makes them decide on their career path. For Joan Musau, it was a bomb. Literally.

She was a first-year nursing student at the Nairobi Hospital in Kenya when powerful terrorist car bombs exploded just minutes apart outside the American embassy on August 7, 1998. They killed 200 people and injured more than 4,000.

Musau’s classroom was immediately turned into an emergency medical centre for the wounded and dying.

“It was a terrifying experience because, as junior students, we not only had to deal with the reality of caring for very badly physically injured patients, but also those with psychosocial trauma as well,” she said.

For Musau, it was a pivotal career-shaping experience. After graduation, she decided to specialize in emergency nursing care. She became a senior clinical nurse in the emergency department at Aga Khan University Hospital and an instructor in advanced cardiac life support courses across Kenya. As a volunteer, she worked in Nairobi’s slums in hypertension and diabetes screening camps and numerous free medical camps. Later she became a clinical instructor at Aga Khan University.

To advance her career in emergency nursing care, she chose to earn a Master of Science in Nursing degree at McMaster University’s School of Nursing because of its international reputation and consistently high record in Canada for research.

On Friday, Nov. 22, Musau will be awarded her master’s degree during McMaster’s fall convocation ceremonies at Hamilton Place. The degree, along with her published research, will advance her goal of becoming a full-time nursing faculty member, a position not possible without the graduate degree.

Musau said that after her two years in Hamilton, she is returning home to Kenya a different person.

“As a foreign student you are exposed to so many different things, such as the access Canadians have to healthcare and educational opportunities,” she said. “Canadians may not notice it, but in Kenya access to quality healthcare service, whether public or private, depends on one’s financial ability.”

From the day she arrived at McMaster, through her moments of being homesick, to completing her thesis on the impact of hospital-associated infections on nurses’ workloads, Musau says she received constant support from Andrea Baumann, scientific director of the Nursing Health Services Research Unit and associate vice-president Global Health.

“Throughout the whole process, Dr. Baumann was very supportive of me and a great mentor throughout the whole process,” Musau said.

Baumann said it is critical that Ontario universities engage actively in capacity-building in higher education and research. “The international perspective adds a richness to the research and develops global linkages that are important to the understanding of complex issues, such as the rise in infectious diseases.”

Currently, Musau is preparing a paper on her research for submission to the Journal of Advanced Nursing.