Blog #InnovationMonth – Afternoons with Edna

10 May 2024

In the lead up to International Nurses Day, this unique blog piece, written by Diana De, showcases an international example of global public health improvement. Diana De is a former Council of Deans Fellow and a Reader at Cardiff University. Diana organised this activity as part of a large cross-field undergraduate Global Health in Nursing module which she leads in the School of Healthcare Sciences.

This was the second time a live link-up had been arranged with Cardiff University’s Honorary Fellow, midwife, and hospital director Dr. Edna Adan Ismail. The first time, when calling from Somaliland, this ‘Woman of Firsts’ (the title of her biography) awed student nurses studying their global health module, student midwives and student health visitors with her tales of gaining inspiration from a stubborn goat to eventually building a hospital in memory of her beloved father. The second time, Edna (a global speaker) joined us at 5.30AM from her hotel room in Baltimore. At the ripe old age of 86, she looked immaculate, fresh, and addressed us as an audience with tonnes of enthusiasm.  She could quite easily have requested to rearrange our schedule, and this would have been totally understood, but this passionate teacher maintained her commitment to speak to our future frontline practitioners. By the way, the reason Edna was in the USA was to receive the prestigious Templeton Prize, received for her outstanding contributions towards scientific and spiritual curiosity. This award had only once previously been bestowed on another awesome female who readers may have heard of. This was…the charitable Saint who is better known as the great Mother Teresa!

Edna started her talk with providing some historical context around Somaliland gaining its independence in 1991. As a result, the country was left with only 18 nurses, midwives and 13 medical doctors to treat a country larger than the size of the UK. After training as a nurse and midwife in the UK, Edna dedicated her life to health improvement. After finishing her long career, Edna knew that she wanted to go back to Somaliland, help shape the future of health services in her home country and provide equitable and compassionate care for those unable to afford private healthcare. When she returned to her home country in 1997, she was given a small stretch of land (on a former rubbish tip) to build her hospital upon. Edna talked about selling all her worldly possessions and gifts received from when she was the former president’s wife to help fund her cause. It was sometime later and only through her sheer grit and determination that the foundations were laid, and Edna’s hospital was erected. Edna trained the very first cohort of 42 Somaliland nurses, and since then, she has gone on to train well over 1000 nurses, lab technicians, pharmacists, and midwives. Through her pioneering work with the World Health Organisation to improve the quality of public health services and educating future healthcare workers, Edna is the perfect role model to inspire and influence the next generation. She is the ultimate exemplar of global leadership helping to shape the future of healthcare and set new standards of care in several hospitals across Somaliland.

‘This was such an interesting lecture which I have really enjoyed and found really engaging.’

– Adult Student Nurse 2023

It was an absolute pleasure to welcome Dr. Edna to our campus virtually, and we hope that someday in the future, we will have the added privilege to have Edna visit us and address our staff and students in person. In the meantime, it’s important to take time to reflect on how we can learn from Edna’s powerful stories. If members would like to read more about Edna’s incredible journey, her book is titled ‘A Woman of Firsts.’

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