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August 26, 2005 -- Today Sierra Leone's Awareness Times ran a short piece by Tom S.E.C. Tommy describing the national nurses association's dismay over the recent "incorporation" of the National School of Nursing into the College of Medicine and Allied Health Services. The report, "Sierra Leone Nurses Blast College of Medicine," also describes the association president Patricia Abu's concern about the extreme lack of resources devoted to the nation's government hospitals. According to Mrs. Abu, 70% of the nurses at those hospitals are unpaid volunteers, with the result that most qualified nurses seek other opportunities, and those who remain are forced to "live on the income from the [medicines] they sell."

Most of the piece consists of comments from Mrs. Abu, president of the Sierra Leone Association of Nurses. She states that medical school professors and government Ministers of Health and Education had assured her that the nursing school would have an "affiliation" with the university system, but not be incorporated into the medical school. The piece notes that she regards the move as "wrong," but the piece does not explain why. The story also says that Abu "disclosed" that 70% of the nurses at government hospitals were "volunteers" who received no salary. She said this was why most skilled nurses "seek greener pastures after graduation"--including an employment program in Iraq. Abu is also quoted as saying that government RN's have not received salaries in four years, and that "they live on income from the drugs they sell." The piece includes a response from the Deputy Minister of Health and Sanitations, Ibraham Sesay. He stresses that the government cannot "afford to absorb both nurses and doctors in two separate entities" when they "perform the same functions," that the government had agreed to provide nursing students with tuition, lodging, food and an allowance, and that the nursing school's "principal" had been present at meetings where incorporation was discussed.

The piece deserves credit for its reporting on these issues, especially the resource problems, though it could have made clearer the nursing association's reasons for objecting to the arrangement. For instance, does the new plan essentially put the nursing school under the control of physicians, who often know little, if anything, of nursing practice? If the nursing school will essentially be considered part of the medical school, then the association's objections would be understandable. Nursing is an autonomous profession. Of course it overlaps significantly with medicine, but it is theoretically and practically distinct, and it encompasses a great deal of clinical practice that is beyond the scope of physician care. Thus, physicians are in no more of a position to supervise the training of nurses than nurses would be to supervise the training of physicians.

See the Sierra Leone Awareness Times article "Sierra Leone Nurses blast College of Medicine" by Tom S.E.C. Tommy in its August 26, 2005 edition.

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