In the final in our interview series with the keynote speakers from this year’s Women in Global Health symposium, Pat Daoust, Associate Director for Nursing at Massachusetts General Hospital, talks about pride, passion and advocacy in her profession.

Pat Daoust, MSN, RN
Pat Daoust, MSN, RN

One could say Pat Daoust is a natural born advocate. Having worked as a nurse educator for an HIV/AIDS service organization in Boston and championing the rights of people living and dying with the virus, she was recruited by the Harvard AIDS Institute in the early 1990s to work in Botswana, a former epicenter of the epidemic. In what was her first foray into what was then known as “International Health,” Ms. Daoust imparted the expertise she had acquired to the African students; educating nurses and enhancing their skillset while mobilizing those affected by HIV/AIDS in getting access to care. During the course of these five years working in the global health arena, Ms. Daoust, in her own words, became completely hooked.

Global goals on a Mass General platform

Now the self-proclaimed “wearer of two hats”, Ms. Daoust marries her positions as both Chief Nursing Officer of Seed Global Health and that of Associate Director for Nursing at Mass General’s Center for Global Health. It’s indeed working with Mass General which Ms. Daoust believes offers her an invaluable cachet in bringing about positive change to the field of nursing.

“By having the Mass General stamp of approval and support, we can really accomplish so much,” she elaborates. “It’s one of the things that excites me most about the opportunity. When you step up to the mic, or stand in front of room and acknowledge you’re part of such a well-established organization as Mass General, people really listen.”

And as a woman who considers it her vocation to bring her profession to the foreground and give nursing a voice, Ms. Daoust has a lot to say. “Nurses provide up to 70 or 80 per cent of primary care in the developing world, be it due to resource constraints or the physician shortage, so we really need to recognize the important role that nurses play in the delivery of care – particularly in these areas or the world,” she says.

Making a difference in Malawi

On her latest assignment with Seed Global Health, Ms. Daoust has been providing clinical and academic assistance in three regional health centers across Malawi, teamed all the while with the partnership’s nursing volunteer corps. “These volunteers are women and men who are at various stages of their working career,” she explains, “and they feel compelled to make a difference.” With the common goal of enhancing the nursing profession and promoting advocacy, together they’ve been providing faculty support to their African colleagues in Malawi who grapple daily with a health system bursting at the seams.

“It’s the rainy season in Malawi right now and that means it’s the malaria season,” explains Ms. Daoust, before highlighting the grim reality of conditions. “I recently walked through a pediatric ward where they have a 60% mortality rate simply because of lack of medications; you can only imagine how difficult those conditions must be. For somebody to come in and acknowledge their difficulties and to point out they’re making a difference in so many ways is so important.”

Pride in profession breeding a new nursing generation

Now heading into the second year of this five year program, Ms. Daoust is already beginning to witness how the enthusiasm of her volunteer nurses is rippling across the hospital wards they serve, as a new generation of Malawian nurses become instilled with passion for their profession.

It’s that freshly yielded pride in Malawi that Ms. Daoust believes will lend itself to bringing better care to the patients. “You know, lying in bed in a mosquito net at night, I know in my heart we have the right model with our program – we just need to be appropriately funded and supported to really see success. Because we’re not just creating a new generation of nurses in Malawi – we’re creating a new generation of advocates.”

This passion was most memorably reflected according to Ms. Daoust after one of her program’s volunteer teachers distributed an end of semester evaluation form to her nursing students. “The students were asked various questions on how well they were taught and how well they understood,” she explains. “But so many of them had made an additional comment at the end of the page: notes such as ‘thank you for coming’, ‘you’ve given me a spark that I’ve never had before’ and ‘I’m proud to be a nurse’.