Female Mentorship: A Catalyst for Change in Zambia

In a collaborative effort, Women In Ophthalmology (WIO), Seva Foundation, and Orbis International have come together to coordinate a global webinar series on topics that speak to current and prospective women in ophthalmology. Building on past coffee hour topics on mentorship, this coffee hour will focus on lessons in mentorship with our female eye care professionals in Zambia. The webinar series also showcases our collective efforts to partner with organizations dedicated to supporting eye care professionals to excel personally and in their careers.

Dr. Maria Montero, Associate Director of Clinical Services, Flying Eye Hospital

Lucia Nadaf, Country Director, Orbis International Zambia

Dr. Zipporah Phiri, Senior Medical Superintendent, University Teaching Hospitals-Eye Hospital

Dr. Phyllis Moonga, National Eye Care Coordinator

Dr. Grace Mutati, Consultant Ophthalmologist, Maina Soko Medical Centre and former Senior Medical Superintendent, University Teaching Hospitals-Eye Hospital

Dr. Serenje Mulubwa, Consultant Ophthalmologist, Maina Soko Medical Centre

Judith Munthali, Chief Nursing Officer, University Teaching Hospitals-Eye Hospital


Hi, everybody, we are broadcasting today live from Zambia. I’m the assistant director of clinical services in Orbis for The Flying Hospital. Women in Ophthalmology and Orbis International came together to organize a series of webinars being broadcast around the world on topics in local and global topics in ophthalmology. Today is going to be about mentorship with our colleagues here in Zambia. I want to thank our sponsors Women in Ophthalmology and — for this. Just some housekeeping tips for you. Please mute your microphones if you are not trying to speak. If you do want to talk or make a comment, please raise your hands or you can also type in the chat box that is below you in the Zoom screen. I’m going to introduce you to our lovely group of panelists. First, we have Dr. Zipporah Phiri, the Senior Medical Superintendent at University Teaching Hospital. She has over 15 years experience as an ophthalmologist. She is a pioneer female vitreoretina specialist in Zambia. And currently the only one employed by the public sector. She is the head of training and research at UTH and the head of curriculum development, education, and clinical committee at UTH. Thank you, Dr. Phiri for being here with us. Next Dr. Phyllis Moonga. She is a glaucoma specialist at the University Teaching Hospital. She is the national eye health coordinator for the Ministry of Health. Dr. Moonga is affiliated with the Zambia Medical Association, and the Congress of Ophthalmology for the Eastern, Central, and Southern Africa. We have Grace Mutati, consultant ophthalmologist. The formerly first senior superintendent at UTH and honorary consultant at the University Teaching Hospital. In addition, she is a vice chairperson on the Zambia Board, senior lecturer at the School of Medicine, and founding fellow of the Zambia College of Medicine and Surgery. She received the IAPB Vision Excellence Award in 2021. Thank you, Grace. We have Dr. Mulubwa. She is an ophthalmologist. She got a masters of medicine in ophthalmology from the University of Zambia. The College of Ophthalmology of Eastern, Central, and Southern Africa. And will soon graduate with a master of surgical and clinical ophthalmology from the University of Edinburgh. And next is Judith Munthali. She is the chief Nursing Officer for the University Teaching Hospital. A masters in public health with a major in health policy and management as well as [inaudible] and maternal, newborn, and child and adolescent health. She has a background in operating theater and a registry in nursing and chief nursing officer from the position of the senior theater superintendent. And last but not least, we have Lucia, who is the country director of Orbis International Zambia. Lucia joined Orbis in 2015. (inaudible) She has a background in development and public health having worked in the development sector for 19 years. She found her passion for eye care health after joining Orbis. Thank you, all. We’re going to start our first section which is mentorship. I’m going to ask Dr. Phiri, can you share how mentorship has been influential in your life or career? >> Thank you very much Maria for that question. For me, I would say mentorship has brought values to my life, socially and career wise. And socially I would say the values I still uphold today came from the mentorship that I got during my early formative years of life, of childhood. And they came from both my parents, extended family members and church members. And this type of mentorship impacted social value, moral, and religious values. I will give examples. For example, being honest. This is a value which influences me to leads a life of transparency and responsibility. Another example is having — regardless of their socioeconomic status. The other example is having a very large and forgiving heart. For this value I have, helps me work with many different people, even those that [inaudible] very well. [inaudible] evil for evil. Vengeance belongs to the lord. And another value that I uphold comes from the — bible, which states that whatever your hand tries to do, do it with all your mind. With this value, I have applied it when it comes to surgery and everything I do. I make sure I do it to the best of my ability. So all these values I acquired socially, influence most of the choices that I make in my life today. Career wise, I would say career wise, I receive many forms of mentorship and this was mainly during my residency training at the University of nigh row bib in Kenya. And training in India as well as in Tanzania. During residency I was assigned a general mentor. I was assigned supervisors for my dissertation and teachers at the training site as well as the practicum sites where I visited during my elective terms. During my fellowship train, I had Dr. Achu as my mentor in India. The frequent interactions I had with all these, my teacher, has influenced my life positively career wise in various ways and I will give examples. I was taught never to give up. And this actually came from my teacher of retina surgery. He always started in the theater with me and cheered me on and said don’t give up. Push on and finish the case. This type of confidence built my confidence level to what it is today. And now no matter how difficult a case I come across, I always have hope that I can make it and it gives me the drive to soldier on. The other example I will give is my interaction with these mentors influenced the choices I made that hinged on my professional development. For example. I would sit and watch my mentors watch, I would sit and watch my mentors operate and watch their technique. And through doing that I was able to identify the gaps I had in my own skills and this has helped me improve. The interaction also influenced the interest I developed and the choice of my specialty, specialization that I have found myself in today. So the other thing that these interactions have brought to my life is knowing the power of consultation. Because the interactions built in — of junior colleagues from various specialties in eye health throughout the eastern, central, and southern Africa as well as Asia, okay. These interactions taught me that one person cannot know everything. And consultation is very important from colleagues especially in the medical field. Thank you. >> Thank you, Dr. Phiri, that is lovely and I think we can all relate to those values. Next, Grace. If mentorship hadn’t been part of your career, where could mentorship be helpful in your career? How was mentorship helpful in your career and what advice would you give others? >> Thank you, Maria, for me mentorship has been very informal. There are three stages. The pretraining stage, the training stage and post training. Pretraining it’s when you’re sitting with a consultant and they’re guiding you and build confidence in you. Each time they tell you you have what it takes to do ophthalmology. It’s that confidence building pretraining. That is what me think, let me do ophthalmology as a career. When I went into training, again, it was very informal. However working closely with the consultants and they would guide me through a presentation and after that, they said that is a very good presentation. That gave me confidence building. So building the confidence that I needed to take up this career. When I graduated as an ophthalmologist. Everybody thinks you know everything. You are the consultant. I had a [inaudible] relationship with my other colleagues. And during this period, I learned that I needed to make decisions. Sometimes making decisions on your feet. And the right decision at the right time. That was very important. And I learned from other people. I also learned how to interact with different people. People who were outside my career, patients, my colleague, junior colleagues and senior colleagues. There is a difference in the way that I communicated with senior colleagues. It was not right saying for me to [inaudible] leave the clinic and tell the consultants I’m finished with my patients and I’m going. That was unheard of. I had to be the first one there and the last one to leave. If it was a theater day, I had to be the one to make the list and be the first one in the theater that day to make sure that everything is ready before the consultant comes. It’s been a gradual road, you know. And I’m just hoping that our young ones can somehow pick up some of the small things that you think are small. Dealing with patients. There’s a way in which you should address the patient. The way in which you talk to a patient that just received bad news. So all those things, having attached myself to a consultant, I could see. Then the other thing I learned was, I had to appreciate that informal mentor. Make them know that I appreciate the time they’re spending to mentor me. And also congratulate them on their successes. Say, oh, that was a very good presentation, sir. Or madame, that was a very good approach you made. Oh, I loved the way you helped me out through that surgery. I was actually almost crying when you came to my aid. So the mentor also needs that feedback from the mentee. You know. That we are doing good for those people. So that’s what I wanted to say. Thank you. >> I love that. Yes. I always said that everybody needs feedback. Otherwise, how do you know if you’re doing a god job or a bad job. >> Exactly. >> Thank you for that, Grace. Okay. So Judith, what are some strategies you have used to approach a mentor? >> Thank you, Maria. So allow me to maybe give a simple definition of what mentorship is. Mentorship is the building of relationships between the mentor and one or more mentees. So when you build those relationships, you are going to be able to guide and advise the mentees. So as you guide them and advise, you allow them to learn, to develop and to build their profession. They will be able to be good at what they do just like how they are mentored. I wish to mention that mentorship and leadership is not [inaudible]. As a leader I oversee a big number of — it’s important as a leader, I also have some mentorship practice. So as I give out that practice, I need to use strategies. And the most important strategy is to role model. As a mentor, I need to be a role model, show my mentee how to do things accordingly and professionally. I will take an example from charity. If I’m early or late as a mentor [inaudible] time for it. Time to take care of patients. Nursing, the call of nursing is to take care of patients. As nurses, we stay with patients for 24 hours using systems that have been put in place. So we do shifts. We’re able to hand over them from one shift to the other shift. How we have looked after the patient and allow for continuity of care. Also, I encourage open communication. It’s very important that communication is open and effective. Because when it’s open and effective, even the mentee who approach you at any time because they know that you are available, they know that you are accessible. So they will approach you to give feedback to you as well as you giving feedback to them. So the systems we have in place have really helped me as a nurse mentor and a nurse leader. Actually, did training in clinical mentorship and I’ve been one of the mentors who have gone around the whole country to mentor nurses. My background is theater nursing. So I do that very well. All the time I have been a leader. And then I also use continuous technical supports. Always, with my mentees, we discuss issues. We do demonstrations together or procedures. And then we come up with a way forward together. If they have — I should be able to know where to come in and develop the mentee. If there is need for training, I will definitely train the mentee so they are able to be better mentors. Because we are preparing the mentees for their future. Because they’re the ones that take the program from us and they need to be in the right place for them to be tomorrow’s leaders and tomorrow’s mentors. So again, as a mentor it is important to put in place some control measures. Without control, nothing can be done correctly. So you’re supposed to — people need to know the boundaries of where you have to end and where you have to start from. Most of all, it’s important like my colleagues have mentioned to inspire and commend our mentees. So when they do well, I should be there to commend them. I should be there to inspire them but how I carried myself while I’m working. And then when we have good leaders and good mentors, we are assured of the benefits of tomorrow which will be career development for our mentees. They will build their confidence. If they had low confidence levels, after a lot of mentorship they will be able to build on that. They will also learn new skills through the mentorship. And will build in a working group. We can — approach each other and learn from each other. So as your mentor, it’s a life-long process. It’s not something you do once and you forget about it. It has to be for the rest of your career life. If and when you retire, we still [inaudible] a lot of things — mentorship is about carrying on with something that you think is right. Thank you very much. >> Thank you. There’s a phrase that I really like which is aspire to inspire. And I think we all want that. Thank you. So we’re going to move to our second topic which is wellness. And first, I’m going to ask Lucia here, what have you done to prioritize your own health and wellness? >> So for me, I’m just coming out of four years of school. And I’ve been working for just a few months. I realized the way I prioritize wellness and health now is slightly different from how I did it when I was a student. I was a student more than an ophthalmologist, I will talk about when I was a student. One of the things that really helped me to manage my days and to just be able to be the same person at the end of the day is to exercise. I always tried to fit in some exercise into my life. It’s not always possible but I aim to do 3 or 4 days of exercise, just 30 minutes a day. And it looks different depending on the stage of my life. It may take the form of going for a run or going to the gym or just following a You Tube video. I have a video that I use at home but I try to fit exercise into my routine one way or the other. I try to eat healthy. I love good food but I also try to eat healthy. I have a rule 80/20. I eat well 80 percent of the time and I give myself 20 percent to eat whatever I want to eat. If I cut out the things that I like, like ice cream and chocolate cake, I binge on them if I deny myself. So I give myself an allowance to eat those nice things but most of the time I eat well. I also try to stay hydrated. Because I’ve noticed that if I don’t stay hydrated, I will be forced to sit in one position for a long time. As ophthalmologist we tend to sit at the microscope or during operation, we sit when we’re operating. So when I stay hydrated, I’m forced to get up at one point or another, two or three times during my work and keep my body moving and a lot of studies have shown this ophthalmologists tend to have back aches later on in their life because of the way we sit. The way we posture ourselves. I try to hydrate and that forces me to move at least a few times during my day. The other thing I try to do is make time to care for my own body. And this is not always easy because there are other things that you try the take priority in my life. I have small children and I have a husband and other family members looking up to me. So looking up to myself doesn’t come naturally. I have to be deliberate about things like just going to do my hair, making sure that my cloths are not ten years old. I changed them. Small things like that. I celebrate small victories even if it means taking one good bubble bath in a month, that is enough for me to feel good about my body. And lastly, I just tried to do what I can at a given time. I don’t try to serve the whole world. There are people who, ten people at a time will come and tell you I need this from you, your kids need that from you, your sister needs that from you. I try to prioritize what is important at that particular time and say no to some of the things that I’m not able to do at that particular time. I just do what I can and I try not to feel guilty to say no just to keep myself sane. Those are some of the things that I do. >> Excellent. Yes, I think we all can relate to that. Lucia, yaw wanted to add onto that. >> Thank you. I totally agree with you, you can’t save the whole world. That is my motto these days. I learned to have time out. One of my favorite quotes is courage does not roll, sometimes it’s that little voice at the end of the day that says I will try again tomorrow. That comes with work. My experience — most of my life, I have come to a point where I realize and I think it’s getting older, I realize that I need time for me. Work is not everything. If I haven’t finished something, of course you have to prioritize what you need to finish. But if something isn’t done, there is always tomorrow. I learned to do that and taking time out. My favorite days are Friday because I know I have the weekend and there are times that I just don’t do anything. I’m just watching TV and just the pleasure that comes with that, you know, it’s the small things. Having to breathe, having to watch TV, having to eat. That rejuvenates me. So Sunday I’m ready and Monday I go in and I know I had myself a good weekend. And like she said, we have so many pressures, especially as women, you’re a wife, you’re a mother and have all these other responsibilities, sometimes it’s good to take that time for yourself. Most of the time you’re the one who is stressed out most of the time and it’s not good for your work or your family. So I think looking after yourself is the beginning of wellness for the family as well. >> Thank you. Okay. Then I want to ask Dr. Mulubwa, what activities do you do beside from work and family? >> Unfortunately, my life reinvolves around my work and my family. At this stage of my life I think it’s very difficult to run away from those two things. Once in a blue moon when I get a chance, I spend time with my girlfriends. We go out and just have girl time. There are certain things you just need to talk about with your girlfriends. And your work colleagues do not understand what your girlfriends do. When my girlfriends say we’re doing this, I will not turn it down. Even if I have pressure from left, right, and center but for them I will go. Then I also attend church. And I involve myself in certain church activities. Because that’s something that is completely different from my work. And I feel like it’s something that I’m giving back when I’m serving in the church, it helps me to give back without expecting anything. Just, I have one friend that I spend some time with. Like, yes, you can have a lot of friends but there is one friend that you share your deepest thoughts with, I spend time with that one friend every so often. But I don’t have a lot of outside activities at the moment. >> Okay. Thank you. Phyllis, would you like to add onto that? >> I don’t know what to add on exactly. A lot has been said. Maybe for me, apart from what the others have said, I love my dogs. I have Maltese dogs which I like taking for a walk. So even if it’s late in the evening, I get home and say guys, let’s go. They are walking and we’re jumping all together, that’s a lot of fun. Sometimes when I want to be alone, I will get in the car. I will play very loud rock music. And come back and feel refreshed. And the other thing I have learned is not to stress. If there are problems that are stressing me, okay, guys, it’s okay, calm down, calm down. We will look at this again tomorrow. Just relax. >> That’s a problem for future Phyllis, tomorrow. >> Just relax and have fun. Thank you. >> Thank you so much. Okay. Great. I would like then to ask Grace, for those of us with family obligations, how do you balance those? >> Now I don’t have so many family obligations, but when I was young, there is one thing I learned, you need to have the ability to delegate. When you delegate, don’t over-delegate. That is also not good. For example, there are families that just want you to be the one to make the meals. There are certain meals that you can ask other people to help. They prepare half way and you come and finish up. Also, you need to let the family know that you also need your own time. So they know that this time, it’s our time. I would like to sometimes on my own switch on music and just dance. Just start dancing. I’m alone in the bedroom dancing and they know that is my time to dance. Sometimes also, family obligations, I think I will go back to the issue of expectations. I was fortunate when I was a young ophthalmologist, I had a very supportive husband. So if I was on call, those days the ambulance will drive to your house and pick you up. He would follow the ambulance and follow behind and you finish the case that I have to and go back. Let people also know your vision. Those of you that are coming out in to responsible positions like SMS, health clinical care, share the vision with your colleagues. Let them know where you stand. If you say meetings will be from 7:30, stick to it at 7:30. That way the stress issue is low. Because then again one of the points you need to do is build a team around you. A team of individuals that know what you stand for. Those individuals will be able to deliver and make you look good. But you need to build that team. Otherwise, other than that, I think most of the issues have been discussed already. >> We’re going to move on. Lucy, when you see — in leadership, what have you done about it in the past and how would you handle it ideally? >> I think the issue of gender equity and gender inequality needs a lot of discussion. So like Grace was saying in ophthalmology, we have more female ophthalmologists than male. So most of the times you wonder how. So we celebrate women. In other instances you find that it’s different and in workplaces as well. So you get disregarded. I will share my experience of being young and being in a leadership role, sometimes you’re not acknowledged. I will give you a very recent experience. Having been at this place and this older man and I was surprised because he is — was being very dismissive. I’m trying to talk to him about our work and he is being very dismissive. What raises that the fact that you have to prove yourself. That comes with respect. And for him, that changed his mind set after seeing that. So I think it’s also about being patient. Some people, it’s sometimes culture issues and you have to deal with that but I think you have to prove yourself. Otherwise, I think there has to be a lot of discussions around that. Talk about it, talk about inequality and inequity. We’re talking about issues around fairness and how to get, especially for women, you have to give them the resources to get where they’re supposed to be. And that is obviously translating to quality where there is fairness between men and women and especially in the workplace. There are times when it is reflected in the pay grade, you know. Because you’re a woman and a man, you know, it’s about voicing out and talking about it. I think it’s also about responsibilities. There is a whole thing about a woman can’t do this, a woman can’t do that. Look at these amazing women that we have here. These are women in leadership positions and they are women and doctors. I think talking more and more about it would help. >> We have to speak up and let people know when it’s okay and when it’s not okay we have to say something about it. So they know they cannot get away with it anymore. >> Exactly. >> Okay. Do you think that our male colleagues — more mentorship or not. >> For the females, when I was in school, we had two male colleagues and two ladies. They have more time. For me as a woman, I have to do work and then rush home. The men stay at the hospital. They continue having lessons and all this mentorship. But for me I have children and they will get sick. The husband gets sick and I have to be there. But the guys just go. My mentor doesn’t have a sick child and it’s all about time. And there are different responsibilities we carry around us with family and work. And also maybe, the men are more aggressive. I think that’s one thing we need to learn from our male counter parts. If a male wants something, they go for it. I’m a bit shy, I’m a woman. But I think we need to come out and say this is what I want and we’ll get it. I think we need to go in that direction, it’s very important. Don’t shy away. If you want to do a case, say I want to do a case. And I’m not asking to do it and saying I want to do this. I want to try this one today. I want to do this and that. >> Speak our minds, I think. That is very, very important. I would like to see if we have any questions in the chat group? So we do have some questions here in the chat. I will just read it. They say it’s so good to see inspiring ladies, how greatly they’re managing work and home. Wanted to know if Orbis has any setup in Pakistan. We answered that privately in the chat box. A lot of people want to join. Thank you so much. We have messages saying you’re very inspiring from India. Warm greetings from South America. Discussion is very informative with strategies and key take aways promoting female mentorship and having them excel. Thank you so much for all of these comments. I want to thank all of our panelists. I think this is always very nice to be able to talk to colleagues, females in a safe environment and go back and forth on these important topics with you all. Okay. Thank you. Okay. A few more questions here. How do we — how can we do work in ophthalmology from home? How do we break the cycle of gender gap in eye health? I think we have addressed some of these topics. Let me search for one of these questions. I think that we have addressed a lot of these questions, too. Like I was saying, if you have any more questions, you can write to us at Orbis or you can also write or type in the chat box. And contact us through our website or write to us at Orbis.org. I would like to join everyone to join Cybersight. Thank you so much for joining us. We were live from Zambia, thank you so much. Thank you.

Last Updated: October 2, 2023

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