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Lessons from my 50 years of work experience

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Added 19th February 2020 02:37 PM

I should tell you that my first encounter with His Highness the Aga Khan was also the first time that I saw an aeroplane that brought him to the town of Soroti in Eastern Uganda, where I was a schoolboy in 1956/7

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Prof. Francis Omaswa

I should tell you that my first encounter with His Highness the Aga Khan was also the first time that I saw an aeroplane that brought him to the town of Soroti in Eastern Uganda, where I was a schoolboy in 1956/7

By Prof. Francis Omaswa

KAMPALA - On Saturday, February 8, 2020, Professor Francis Omaswa presided over the Convocation of the Aga Khan University in Uganda. Below were his remarks to the graduands.  

Dear Graduand…

I am aware of the outstanding reputation of the Aga Khan University here in Uganda, and of its hospital in Nairobi where my wife and I worked during our days in Nairobi. The establishment of a new Aga Khan University Hospital in Kampala is a most welcome development. It should help to raise the standard of care, to educate health care leaders, and to generate knowledge that is needed to address some of Uganda’s critical health challenges. I want to thank His Highness the Aga Khan for his commitment to improving the quality of life in East Africa, and the very significant long-term investments that he has made in Uganda over many years.

I should tell you that my first encounter with His Highness the Aga Khan was also the first time that I saw an aeroplane that brought him to the town of Soroti in Eastern Uganda, where I was a schoolboy in  1956/7

My remarks today are addressed to the happy graduands as they commence their respective journeys as health professionals here in Uganda, Africa and globally.  Imagine your selves 20 to 30 years from today; where will you be? What will you have achieved professionally and in your personal life? I have no doubt that you have all been thinking about this and what I will do now is to share with you thoughts based on my own  50years experience on my own professional journey. I graduated as a medical doctor in 1969 at Makerere Medical School as you have been told. Health my dear friends is not only my area of expertise but is more than anything else my passion.


Here are some suggestions for your consideration:

First, you have to take good care of your selves through personal discipline. Ordinary matters such as being clean and smart, eating well, having adequate sleep and having peace of mind cannot be taken for granted. I have also found having a spiritual life to be empowering and an anchor that keeps me on course. You have to cultivate these habits purposefully and deliberately. Keep friends and seek to work with people who will advance your career and life not those who will award you PHD; in full “pull her down”. Please join and be active members of your professional associations where will meet professional colleagues who will lift you up and not pull you down.

Second, I call upon you to pursue excellence in whatever you do. Everything that you do must be done to the highest achievable standard taking into account your personal capability. This includes big and small things in your work and life. If you bathe a patient it must be done the best way possible. If you clean the floor, apply a dressing to a wound, teach others or lead the way, it must be to the highest possible standards. Keep in mind that what you are doing well today can be done event better tomorrow and the next day. This is known as “Continuous Quality Improvement” in Total Quality Management principles. In this way, you are getting better and better all the time in your daily life both professional and social.

Third, you need to cultivate your people skills on how to get on in a complex world. When I was a schoolboy, I was introduced to a book titled “How to win friends and influence people”. I found this book to be useful and I still recommend young people to read and use it. In your life, you are going to meet all types of people; nice and friendly, nasty and aggressive, generous and greedy. You will have to manoeuvre your pursuit of excellence among all these characters and succeed.

What I have found helpful is to be positive and helpful to all people. If you can help someone, why not do it? I have also found it helpful to work for the common good and not my own personal good. Once it is known that you work for all people including of course yourself, you will be given more things to do on behalf of the community from which you can also benefit. That is the best route to becoming a leader.

You must also know how to fight battles with people in your life because disagreements will be there. Again if you are positive and working for the common good, your point of view will have the strength and you will argue with calmness and composure for the common good and win the day. Do not keep grudges and sulk because it is you who suffers from high blood pressure and stress and not the other party. If you do not keep grudges and you work for the common good even those who once upon a time did not agree with you will be able to come back to you to work for the common good. That is how you consolidate your leadership position.

Fourth, it is essential to cultivate a culture of integrity; which means doing the right thing, the right way, all the time whether you are being watched or not. You will be able to achieve this when the first three characteristics are in place and become routine in your life.

A few weeks ago, I gave a talk to the Rotary Club of Kampala with the title “The World is Watching”. I had been asked to talk about the Hideyo Noguchi Africa Prize that had been awarded to me by the government of Japan.  The key message is that while we live our lives in public and in private, what we do is being watched and judged all the time by all manner of people. They create opinions about you and it is these opinions that determine your destiny. If the opinions are positive then good things happen to you without you looking for them and the opposite is also true for those judged negatively by public opinion. When you live your life pursuing the four pillars above, there is every possibility that you will be judged positively and good things will happen to you in life without you asking for them. Here are some personal examples presented as lessons:

Virtually all the senior positions that I have held during 50 years of my professional career have been by invitation. I completed my training as a Cardiothoracic surgeon in the UK and was permanently settled there with my family until the government of Kenya sent a senior surgeon to my house in the UK to request for me to come to run the Open Heart Surgical program in Nairobi.

From Nairobi my wife Catherine, an anaesthesiologist and critical care specialist and I went to work at the remote Ngora mission hospital as a bold pro-poor, pro-people common good move which surprised many. We were recalled to Kampala by the NRM government and assigned leadership roles.

Dr. Catherine Omaswa took charge of the Department of Anaesthesia and joined Makerere University as founding Director of the Uganda Heart Institute. Later, I have appointed other senior positions here in Uganda and abroad as you have already been informed during my introduction. This CV is available in Google and in humility I have shared this story in the firm belief that it will inspire you all to do even better. Remember: “The World is watching you” who knows what will happen next.

Finally, as most of you are Nurses and Midwives, I want to specially congratulate you all on the “2020 , the Year of the Nurse and Midwife”. You are graduating this year and it makes it special for each of you. I am a member of the Global Nursing Now Campaign Board and the message is that Nurses and Midwives need to get to the front and be more visible in service provision and leadership as part of the movement to achieve SDGs and UHC.

I am convinced that if this happens with Nurses and Midwives leading Integrated People-Centered Primary Health care here in Uganda we will achieve UHC that leaves no one behind soonest and with the currently available resources. Please read more about this in the Africa Health Journal at africa-health.com which was released last week by ACHEST. This people-centered integrated PHC is about the slogan “HEALTH IS MADE AT HOME AND ONLY REPAIRED IN HEALTH FACILITIES WHEN IT BREAKS DOWN”.

Let us all go forth from here to celebrate our success and onwards to pursue excellence under the four pillars so as to realise our dream for a better country where all of us can say “THIS IS UGANDA; WHAT DO YOU EXPECT? ONLY THE BEST”. I have no doubt that if you do “the right thing the right way all the time”; in 20 t0 30 years you will be the leaders here in Uganda, Africa and globally.
 
Prof Omaswa is the Executive Director of the African Center for Global Health and Social Transformation.

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