From ‘crazy’ idea to top notch nursing school
Sitting on a six-acre piece of land about 4km off the main Mombasa-Malindi highway at Bomani, Kilifi county, the institution represents one of Dr Marianne Darwinkel’s wildest dreams.
It was the furthest thing in her mind in 1995 when the Dutch medical practitioner first set foot in Kenya to do her research project on HIV/Aids. At that time, she was taking her Masters degree in Anthropology, specialising in medical sociology in anthropology. She fell in love with the country.
And as fate would have it, she would be back in Kenya in 2003, this time working for the Kenyan government, through the Belgian government, at the Kenya Medical Training College, first as an assistant co-coordinator, then later the coordinator, of a project to improve medical training, especially for nursing and clinical medicine.
That was when the crazy idea to start up the North Coast Medical Training College hit her.
Her almost care-free, daring attitude was evident as she explained to the Star how she managed to get her three Kenyan colleagues — Reuben Waswa, Kenneth Ireri and Julius Nduru, all of whom are in the medical field — to start up the institution.
“It was the boldest decision of my life and I think also of my colleagues’ lives to really start something like this. Because you have a dream but you have nothing (in the pockets), and I think you can only do it once in your life,” she said.
“Around 2007-2008 we started thinking maybe we can try to contribute towards healthcare in Kenya,” said Darwinkel.
At that time, she said, the three had worked a lot with the Kenyan government and missions and noted there were a lot of things that though the government was trying to address, were not going quite as they should have been.
It became her goal to ensure that medical training becomes accessible to more Kenyans than it was at that time.
“We discussed and we thought, ‘Yes, it should be possible! How? We don’t know, but it should be possible’,” says Darwinkel, letting out a hearty laugh.
She said the idea was not only to provide accessible training but also to provide health services to the surrounding community, and perhaps even healthcare research opportunities.
She felt there was not always enough focus on the quality and competence, which she would have liked to see in Kenyan primary healthcare workers.
“Most Kenyans, when they go for healthcare service, will encounter a nurse or a clinical officer at first sight. And we want them to be very good and we felt that there is room still to improve,” said Darwinkel, who said she has been in Kenya for more than a quarter of her life now.
Though penniless, the four embarked on a search for a suitable area to set up a medical training centre, preferably in a rural area, where they could immediately benefit the surrounding community, but not too far from a big town centre because they felt the would-be students would need enough exposure.
“At that time, around 2007 and 2008, there was nothing in the Coast in terms of tertiary education (in health) except from the Kenya Medical Training College in Kilifi and Mombasa,” said Darwinkel, adding that that was the main reason they chose the Coast.
Once they identified the land, they quickly sourced for funds from donors, friends and well wishers both from within the country and abroad.
Through donations they first acquired the books, medical equipment, land, a team of professionals to work with and some capital to start up the institution but the buildings were yet to be constructed.
So they entered into a partnership with Globoville College in Shanzu, Mombasa, who agreed to collaborate with them to start up the college in their premises.
The college was then started under Community Health Promotion Kenya, which was established five years ago.
In 2012, they started with the Diploma in Clinical Medicine and Surgery course, after officers from the Clinical Officers Council inspected the facility and gave them the green light to start teaching. Their first intake was in September 2012 and the first lot to graduate will be August next year.
They then moved to their own place in May 2013 after managing to get funds, once again from donors and friends.
In 2013, the Nursing Council of Kenya and the Nutrition Board of Kenya came visiting and after they gave their green light, the medical school started offering Kenya Registered Community Health Nursing and Nutrition and Dietetics in May that year.
There are currently 118 students from as far as Nairobi, Bungoma, Busia and even Ethiopia. The institution has about 40 refugees from the Dadaab refugee camp who are studying at the college and are sponsored by the UNHCR.
She said the feeling that they can still improve a lot in the training of students in the healthcare industry and in the process benefit many lives keeps them going.
She said the knowledge levels in Kenya are actually not bad but the skills and, especially, the attitude towards patients need to change.
“We came to Coast and to an area that is disadvantaged because we want to give opportunities to the people around,” she said.
The minimum requirements are also not tough to achieve. One only needs to acquire a minimum of grade C- (C minus) for Nutrition and Dietetics, grade C plain for both Nursing and Clinical Medicine courses.
Students from the surrounding community who qualify but cannot afford the fees can be put in a sponsorship programme depending on availability of sponsors both from within and abroad.
Apart from the UNHCR-sponsored students, four are currently on full scholarships while 20 are on partial sponsorship, all sourced by Darwinkel and her colleagues.
However, the sailing has not been all smooth, she said.
The college introduced many modern concepts in teaching, which she said is different from many traditional institutions in the country.
“We had to take a lot of time with the governing bodies to explain how we teach and what we do, etc,” said the mother of a girl and a boy aged 10 and 14.
For funds for investment and purchasing of facilities, the college relies a lot on donations in their bid not to burden parents or guardians with school fees. This, she said, has its own challenges as the donations are not always forthcoming.
The school fees paid by the students are used for the day-to-day running of the institution including paying the about eight fulltime teachers, two part time teachers and the occasional specialists who come to teach, and the other members of staff.
One of the directors, Waswa, is the head of academics and also teaches sometimes. Darwinkel is an administrator but also teaches. Ireri and Nduru also teach when need arises.
The students go to the Kilifi District Hospital as the main practising site. The institute has organised several medical camps and started an anti-jigger campaign in the Bomani village, where they have also put up a water tank.
Darwinkel starts her days early in the morning at around 5.30am when she prepares her children for school. She then takes one or two hours working at home before she gets to work.
“The moment I enter this office, other people enter my office too,” she says, adding that she hardly gets time to even open her laptop in her office. She is the principal of the college.
“Right now, I always feel like I’m doing three jobs at a time and the good thing is that I really like it,” she said.
“I hope, in the not too far future, I will at least drop one of them so that we can be two people doing what I’m doing now,” she said.
The students are preparing to do a run from Mtwapa to Bomani area to raise funds to help some needy students.
The team at the institution has grown from five, including one non-teaching and four teaching staff when they started, to 22 employees.
The college has offices for the teaching staff, the accounts office-cum-store, the skills lab where practicals skills are undertaken, a library-cum-computer lab, classrooms and the students’ hostels.
The lab is fully equipped with models for the practicals. The college has full internet connection complete with Wi-Fi.
Solar panels have been set up on the roofs to be more environmental friendly and reduce power costs. The solar panels also reduce the frequent power interruptions.
Currently, 100 students board, 70 of whom stay within the hostels in the college compound.
Fredrick Odongo, a student from Busia county, had been applying for KMTC for a long time but was always rejected.
“When I applied at North Coast, I was given an opportunity to come and learn,” said a smiling Odongo.
The second year Clinical Medicine and Surgery student was informed of the existence of the college by a clinical officer-friend.
“The environment is so conducive because for the purposes of learning we require this serene environment. We don’t have a lot of distractions,” Odongo said.
Susan Wanjiku, who is among the pioneer students, said she transferred from Kampala International University.
The second year Nursing student said she found the teaching there different from Kampala.
“Here I got to know that there are various methods of learning. Unlike there, lectures here are the not the central thing but just a part of learning. Here we are exposed to other learning methods like the skills lab where we spend most of our time,” said Wanjiku.
She said at North Coast, it is not about getting top marks but learning what is important to help patients.
Hassan Abdi Hussein, a second year Nutrition student, also transferred from Garissa. He is one of the students sponsored by UNHCR, which helped identify the college for him after he and other students complained that they were not comfortable with the system of learning at Garissa.
Visit College website: North Coast Medical Training College