I worked for the Makerere University/Yale University Collaboration as an administrator for almost six years until retiring last September to pursue my PhD. Working for the collaboration gave me the opportunity to meet new people, exchange ideas with brilliant students, staff, and visitors, and provide them with guidance or a listening ear when they needed it. At first, it was difficult to make new friends in such a short time only to say goodbye six weeks later. But with time, I felt increasingly inspired by the experience. Many of these program participants were in Uganda for the first time. Some, not ever having heard of Uganda, had found it on a map just before arriving. And their challenge was perhaps greater than ours: not only were they meeting us for the first time, but they were placing their lives in our hands, trusting us to guide them through the highs and lows of this strange six-week rotation.
Through attending a number of feedback sessions held with participants, I noticed a recurring pertinent issue: the gaping shortage of staff in government hospitals, especially Mulago, one of the nation’s national referral hospitals with a huge patient burden and a higher burden of disease that inhabitants of Uganda and neighboring countries feel can only be treated there. At first I just listened, marveled, and groveled at this fact. I had watched as scores of doctors, students, and visitors came from around the world to conduct research aimed at solving medical problems, and then left or moved on to another project after criticizing the human resources shortage but leaving the issue otherwise unaddressed.
But one day, it hit me.
Why would I expect health and medical workers to solve a non-medical problem? I asked myself. I have extensive training in management and administration. I have lived, worked with, pondered, and discussed this problem countless times. Uganda is my country. No international knows its ins and outs better than I do. But what have I done toward addressing the severe shortage of healthcare workers?
I realized that I could become part of the solution rather than continue to lament the problem. That I could address the problem myself, and commit myself to understanding it. It was time for me to come out of the shadows and conduct my own research project. This was my chance to contribute to research as I had seen countless others do through the collaboration. One does not need to be a doctor to make a contribution to healthcare. I had the advantage of familiarity with the management field and experience working with the health sector.
I thus committed myself to developing a proposal: “Employee Skill Management in the Health Sector: A Public Institutions Perspective.” This research project is aimed at understanding the factors influencing the shortage and optimization of human resources in health and non-health sectors. It will help the government, administrators, and other private players, particularly those in the health sector, create a conducive environment for the retention, productivity, and commitment of health care employees in Uganda and the rest of the world.
I am now in the process of making my own contribution to medical care, just as the doctors I had worked with- but from a different perspective. I hope the results of my research will move other medical administrators to improve the healthcare system in Uganda through management enhancement and optimal use of existing human resources. We can all contribute to healthcare in our unique way, if only we take the initiative.