by Latoya Burnham
It’s very clear that Dr, Wendy Sealy has a passion for healthcare.
Her eyes all but glow when she speaks about her chosen profession, nursing, and doubly so at the mention of educating and training others in the field, and now as Chief Nursing Officer she is finally in a position to influence that process for the better.
The daughter of a single parent mother, Sealy said that on leaving The Alexandra School she thought a career in nursing could perhaps fulfil the desire she had to help people in some way. So although her mother had dreams of her going into banking, having no head for figures, Sealy entered the Tercentenary School of Nursing in 1983, and was among the first batch of students to graduate when the programme was transferred to the Barbados Community College.
In fact, in a lot of ways, Sealy and her cohorts were trail-blazers of sorts. In addition to being the first to graduate from the BCC’s nursing programme; they were the first not to receive a stipend for work they did during training with the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and perhaps again the reason the said stipend was reinstated the following year with the next group of students.
But through it all, Sealy said her mother was supportive and very proud of the direction she had taken. She recalled that back when she was growing up, “nurses were very well respected”, which became a formative element in her own drive in the profession.
“I think there was an element of me wanting to be one of those persons who was well-respected and it had a fairly positive image and you were seen as someone who could help people, not just from a basic perspective but to be able to use your knowledge and skills to contribute to the comfort of a person getting better, and if they were at the end stage, knowing you could provide that level of comfort to the individuals.
“I also saw beyond the bedside. I was thinking how far I could go beyond the bedside care whether as an administrator or as a teacher, a trainer, nurse educator, all those things came to my mind, obviously not immediately because one of the first things I was thinking about too was how do you manage the complex cases.
“People talk a lot about the blood and seeing people dying, whether it be elderly or children and those were the types of things that came to mind. You knew that the knowledge and skills you had would be able to impact the lives of people and contribute to the country,” she said.
From her office on the third floor of the NIS Building on Culloden Road, St. Michael, Sealy, who confessed that she loves clothes, cut a chic image in her accents of gold, yellow and brown. Her impressively put-together image is one that extends beyond her wardrobe though, to her life. She has spent her entire adult life learning, moving from one degree to another in everything from nursing, to psychiatric nursing, nursing education, policy and planning, and administration — all of which she admitted led to her placement now in the upper echelons of the Ministry of Health.
It’s the thought of being able to more directly impact on health policy now that drives her, and an opportunity that ironically almost passed her by. Serving as the Training Coordinator Consultant with the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training Barbados project, Sealy was approached by several of her colleagues in nursing, with whom she was still in close contact, who mentioned that they thought the vacancy for a CNO was one she was well suited for. After much consideration, she applied on the very last day of the applications process.
She had done her thesis for her doctorate on the migration of nurses and the impacts and implications for nursing education and training, a study that she had been invited by then Minister of Health, Donville Inniss to present to a Cabinet sub-committee, as migration was one of the issues he was tackling and trying to implement policy on at the time.
This study would later come in handy in determining how she would deal with some of the challenges facing nursing and that she herself, as one who would focus on human resources, education, training and other matters, would have had to deal with was she appointed.
“It is a very strategic position to be able to speak from a policy perspective, advising on nursing matters and therefore it would be the opportunity to take it forward not for me, but for nursing in Barbados… It was on the last day that I applied.
“So they called and it was pretty much the same thing I had spoken in the document about — guiding the profession forward, developing it, looking for its expansion, raising its professional image and looking at the clinical nursing specialists, rather than people just moving into administration and education, looking at developing those clinical persons who could drive research, who could supervise the persons at the clinical sites to guide their practice, to ensure that they are doing what they are supposed to be doing and that we have positive clinical outcomes for our clients.
“I spoke to all of that and it was not only speaking it for an interview, because people can talk pretty, pretty in an interview, but I meant it from my heart that these were the things I wanted to do. Although I was in the HIV programme, I would have been contributing to the broader decisions within the ministry because at the time they were preparing what was called a man-power plan. The then minister wanted to know how many nurses were on the ground, how many more were needed … because it seemed like you never had enough nurses and nurses were leaving the profession.”
So even back then, not within the administration of nursing, she was able to lend her HR experience to help develop a framework for the profession, another element she could draw on in the interview for CNO.
Her elevation to the position as of April this year, came not so much as a surprise as it was a wake-up call, because as she was leaving her regional HIV work behind and taking up a greater role in local healthcare and nursing in particular, Sealy noted that there was a very short “honeymoon” period before the magnitude of the task she has ahead of her really sunk in.
So far, she noted that she has been working to get some of the areas that she spoke about in her interview, particularly relating to the increased training and specialisation of nurses really going as some had already begun, but she acknowledged there was still some distance to go.
“I would like to see a nursing profession with direction — direction in that each entity, whether it be psychiatric, general nursing, acute care nursing, whichever area because there are generalists but there is also the area of specialisation you have the QEH, the Psychiatric and district hospitals.
“You have those areas in primary healthcare where nurses are working but from a comprehensive perspective you would want to see that they are all working towards a particular goal and at the end of the day to provide that quality care to the clients and the population of Barbados that we can be equally proud of those persons that the population can say we have some excellent nurses.
“We are customers of our own care too, and the same care we would want to be given to us, I would want for nurses to be able to give to others. Our strategic plan finished last year, and one of my proposals is to work not just with the human resource strategy, but a new strategic plan with a clear direction and goals that can be achieved.
“It doesn’t make sense putting something that you know you can’t achieve, and nurses understanding their role in that, in achieving the plan that has been documented… So I would want to see half of the things, if not all come to fruition [in the next five years],” she stated.
Her ultimate goal is to leave behind a profession that was better than the one she found on entering. firstname.lastname@example.org