Panizales Receives Asian/Pacific Islander Nursing Award
Patrice Nicholas and Tess Panizales
Tess Panizales, MSN, RN, was one of the first non-Kenyan citizens to volunteer on a medical mission led by the Nairobi Women’s Hospital to help Kenyans displaced from their homes during the post-election violence that erupted in December.
That commitment to helping the neediest patients anywhere is one of the reasons why Panizales, a native of the Philippines, was the first recipient of the Asian/Pacific Islander Heritage Award. Patrice Nicholas, DNSc, MPH, APRN-BC, director of Global Health and Academic Partnerships in the Center for Nursing Excellence, presented the award to Panizales, the quality program manager for BWH’s Center for Surgery and Public Health. The April celebration featured an Asian style buffet and a guest speaker, Lin Zhan, PhD, RN, dean of Nursing at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy.
“Tess is a most deserving recipient of this honor,” Nicholas said. “Her enthusiasm, energy and passion for helping to improve the care of those in need around the world are inspiring to us all.”
Panizales, who began her nursing career in the Philippines, demonstrated both passion and courage during her trip to Kenya in February. Just after arriving there with her daughter Christia, a senior at UMass-Boston, to volunteer for three weeks at the Nairobi Women’s Hospital, they heard about the needs of Kenyans in the camps.
“These are people either thrown out of their homes or who lost their homes to fire set by another tribe. They run for their lives because of threat and fear, and many of them suffer from disease and injuries from burns or gender violence, such as sexual and physical assaults,” said Panizales.
After just one day of hospital volunteer work—Panizales as a nurse, and her daughter helping in the Gender Violence Recovery Centre—the two joined clinicians going to the Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps. Over three days, they treated half of the more than 1,000 people gathered in the camps in a makeshift dwelling and no shelter. There were already cases of typhoid, malaria and diarrhea.
Panizales got right to work assessing and treating the long line of patients, all of whom spoke mixed English and Swahili. “I didn’t know Swahili/Kiswahili at all, but I taught myself some words,” said Panizales. “As a nurse, you prompt patients to describe their symptoms, and that’s just what I did here, even though it wasn’t in English.”
Panizales’ botched pronunciation of certain Swahili/Kiswahili words had an unexpected effect on her patients. “They laughed at me pretending to know Swahili/Kiswahili,” she said. “In spite of their misery, they were still able to laugh. Through their smiles, we gained the strength to continue helping.”
For the rest of her time in Kenya, Panizales and her daughter volunteered at Nairobi Women’s Hospital. Panizales rounded with nurses, lectured on quality assurance/improvement and helped in the development of their new training program for community health assistants.
For Panizales, the most difficult part of the mission was seeing patients as young as 18 months who needed treatment for horrific sexual violence. “It was devastating,” she said. “To hear and read about sexual violence among children and women is just heart wrenching, but to see a repair operation being done to this child is beyond my emotions. This is when I question myself, what can I do as a nurse, as a mother, as a citizen of the world.”
Panizales is doing what she can to support the nurses and staff she met at the hospital. She already has connected them with nurses at BWH’s Connors Center for Women and Newborns Health through Julianne Mazzawi to start e-mail correspondence for mentorship. “The Kenyan nurses are excited to have people to ask questions and share ideas with,” Panizales said. “I always believe in education and mentorship. We can learn from them, and they can learn from us for we are all one.”