In a new field such as palliative care nursing in Kenya, mentorship is vital where such professional practice is evolving with few senior leaders to serve as role models.

Most nurses learn how to handle patients under medical terms and hygiene but detailed care beyond medical attention remains vague in their practice.

It is therefore important to develop a structured mentorship program such as recruiting nurses into the field and supporting their retention and advancement in the palliative care field.

Catherine Ajuoga is a Senior Nursing Officer at Nairobi Hospice and has participated in several mentorship programs.

“I have been involved in this process since 2003 when I joined Nairobi Hospice. By the virtue of working at the hospice, being the first one in the country, we have been privileged as a resource center where upcoming hospices and palliative care units have drawn, not only their training skills, but also experience in patient care.” She says.

Ajuoga says that for over two decades, Nairobi Hospice has been offering opportunity for placement and attachment for basic and post basic health care professionals.

“I have been involved in mentoring these professionals during their practical experience at the hospice.” She adds.

The Senior Nursing Officer says that mentorship is important in palliative care as it offers an opportunity for sharing and disseminating knowledge and skills.

“It ensures practices are standard across settings, making quality services available to patients at all levels. Mentorship offers an opportunity to discover strengths, weaknesses and knowledge gaps hence becoming an avenue for growth.”  She says.

The process, according to Ajuoga, entails institutional site visiting, telephone conversations or face to face meetings where by the mentee is coached, guided, supervised and demonstrated to how palliative care is carried out for the utmost comfort of the patient.

Since she became a mentor, Catherine Ajuoga has taken numerous nurses through the mentorship process in Thigio Hospice, Kimbilio Hospice, Machakos Hospice, Kenyatta National Hospital Palliative Care Unit and Garrisa Palliative Care Unit.

She intends to have the mentorship program run in exchange visits across hospices besides having joint events where nurses can exchange ideas and experiences in palliative care.

“The feedback from the mentees is satisfaction, appreciation and increased desire to participate in the process which we are looking into if resources can allow.” She says.

Dr Kinyanjui is the Education and Research Officer at Kenya Hospices and Palliative Care Association (KEHCA) and says that they are working on a project to improve the knowledge  of mentors.

According to Dr Kinyanjui, mentorship is a key area in palliative care where a palliative care nurses undertakes practice under supervision from a qualified palliative care practitioner in an established hospices after training.

In the hospice, palliative care nurses learn how to handle and interact with clients which make them more confident in handling patients in need of end of life care.

“Nyeri hospice has done a lot in mentorship of palliative care practitioners, not only to individual nurses but also acting as a mentor hospice to other hospices and palliative care units.” Dr Kinyanjui says.

The head of palliative care services at Machakos Level 5 Hospital  Mr. Elijah Musau says that mentorship in any field, palliative care included, requires a practitioner who has excelled in that field.

He says that a mentor who is experienced in provision of care, models the newly trained person to face challenges involved in provision of care with courage and boldness.

“A mentor shares the experience gained in the field, guiding and supporting the newly trained person to excel in provision of palliative care.” Mr.  Musau says.

He adds that the mentorship process can take a year or two depending on the mentor or the person to be mentored.

Through Kenya Hospices and Palliative Care Association, Mr. Musau says that Machakos palliative care unit was set up and renovated to a modern model unit. “Four officers from our facility and four from Kangundo District Hospital have undergone through mentorship.” He says.

Mr. Musau adds that after undergoing through the process, the officers are confidently engaged in palliative care provision on part time basis at the unit while those mentored from other facilities are gearing up to set up a palliative care clinic in their area of operation.

Machakos palliative care unit has its own patients’ assessment and monthly reporting tools and the head of palliative care unit says that patients have access to essential medicines used in palliative care including oral morphine.