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The Resilient Human – one man’s journey from Burkina-Faso to Sunshine Coast

Dr. Moussa Ouedraogo

Part 1

Intro

When the WRaP EM Sunshine Coast ED physicians met Dr. Moussa Ouedraogo, they knew his story was one we needed to share. In fact, the Blog Bio is normally a short paragraph about the author. But Moussa’s story is one of such profound strength, that this extended Bio. forms part 1 of this 2-part Blog. We talk to Dr. Ouedraogo about his personal and professional journey from Burkina-Faso to The Sunshine Coast

Over to you Moussa…..

Many times, in his career, both as a nurse and doctor, 38-year-old Dr. Moussa Ouedraogo thought about giving up. As a foreigner for whom English was a sixth language, he thought, “It’s just so hard to navigate the system”.

In his own words: When you come from a country like Burkina Faso, you build a strong resilience. That is embedded in you, and you can almost do anything.

He tells his mates jokingly that he’s like a rusty bike climbing a mountain – I’m almost at the end, but I’m not there yet, and I can’t go back.

Moussa grew up in two of the poorest African countries, Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), where the majority of residents are subsistence farmers and more than 65% are younger than 65. When living in Côte d’Ivoire as a teen he witnessed genocide against anyone of Burkinabe heritage.

Moussa is now a doctor at Sunshine Coast University Hospital’s Emergency Department (ED) and loves his job.

“I come to work, I walk into ED with a smile and I leave with a smile,” he said. “The minute I walk in I put my hat on, [promising] that I will do my best today, to my best ability, to make patients feel better. For me it’s about making a difference in patients’ lives. That’s why I sleep at night, and why I’m so happy doing this work.”

Despite the joy Moussa finds in daily medical work, he said the road to medicine has been long.

He arrived in Melbourne 16 years ago at age 22, alone and with no English. He studied his first degree in nursing on a part-time basis, working part-time in aged care to pay full fees as an international student. After seven years as a nurse Moussa decided he wanted to “do more for patients” and decided to become a doctor.

Sometimes colleagues or fellow students would be frustrated at his slow typing, Moussa said. He owned his first computer at age 26.

“Some of my Australian colleagues would have no idea what it is like to have your mother say to you, ‘there is no food to eat, so drink water and go to sleep’. I had to walk to school barefoot in 40 degrees Celsius, to sit in the dirt and learn French letters.” Moussa experienced traumatic events in both his homeland, and in bordering Côte d’Ivoire.

“When I lived in Côte d’Ivoire, there was a time when people from Burkina Faso were chased out of the country, even people who had become citizens. It was a purely racist policy and thousands of people died – they burned their houses, killed them. I saw all that. My countrymen were under attack and I was just 14. Being a Burkinabe in Côte d’Ivoire, I couldn’t have been more vulnerable.”

Compared to the violent racism of his adolescent years, the racism he has experienced in Australia is very small.

“But the strange this is that when you do receive racism here, it hurts more because you are totally alone,” he said.

“I have experienced racism from both patients and staff. There is a lot of ignorance about people from different cultures, and often people are afraid to find out about me – to ask me where I’m from and who I am  – for fear of offending me.

“I think people should not be afraid to ask questions. Truthfully, ignorance is the main problem, and so the more questions a person can ask to understand diversity, the better.”

Asked whether hardship in his earlier life had helped him empathise with patients, he said it not only helped but had shaped him as a person. 

“People are often at their most vulnerable when they are in the health system. Some people have never experienced vulnerability until they are in hospital. But I have a good understanding of what it is like to be in your most vulnerable state.

“The care I give to people, it’s not like what others do,” he said. “I have a holistic approach; I want to know all about this person and how they came to be in ill health. I care about the whole person, why they are here, and if we do surgery, I want to know how they will cope afterward.”

“If you want to build a sustainable workplace, a place where people get treated well – including the sick, then you have to overcome the segregations. You have to have people from diverse backgrounds, and have an inclusive workplace to provide really great patient care. It impacts patient care when you don’t. People are not going to trust the system unless they are respected, and included. Diversity and inclusion is about how you treat people, but also about who you have on your staff”

He enjoyed knowing that people from many cultures, sexual orientations, and people with disabilities work at Sunshine Coast Health.

“It’s beautiful to have an inclusive workforce – it’s amazing that on the Sunshine Coast I can wear this scrub top, and you know it says we are exceptional people – but we really are,” he said.

“We are African and Asian, gay and transgender person, and we are exceptional people providing exceptional health care. I’m proud to be here.”

Find out more about diversity and inclusion at Sunshine Coast Health here:

https://qheps.health.qld.gov.au/schsd/hr/workforce-planning/diversity-and-inclusion

*This piece was originally published in the Sunshine Coast University Hospital Magazine who retain all Intellectual Property rights and from who we attained permission prior to republication.

Part 2

In Part 2 of Moussa’s reflection, we ask him to share how the foundations built during his childhood and youth, as a result of his circumstance and environment, have shaped how he practises as a doctor. We explore with him themes of resilience, holistic health care, fostering connection, and creating an inclusive workplace.

  1. The word ‘resilience’ can mean many different things to different people and is mentioned a lot in mandatory health care modules for staff. What does resilience mean to you?

Resilience, to me, is being able to reflect on your past experiences, take a step back in any given situation that may have been very challenging, and then build upon your strengths. It is a matter of will that when you’ve been knocked down, you choose to stand up again, to learn from it and use it to your advantage. It is a mindset to persevere despite obstacles.

2.     You have described your approach to medicine as holistic. Could you expand on that for our readers? 

A holistic approach to medicine is being able to consider the whole person – not only disease-focused, but also the psychosocial ramifications – ongoing wellbeing, the home environment, their supports, the emotional impacts, the patient’s wishes and self-determination, their cultural considerations, quality of life, etc.

Where I come from, the focus on the whole person is as imperative as addressing the medical issue. The philosophical underpinnings come from my cultural background where everyone assumed responsibility for the care of the sick and elderly in a comprehensive fashion. In my country, the sick person will become the centre of attention for everyone in the village because their needs become vitally important to all community members.

Problems of the one become problems of the whole. It is not limited to the disease, but all potential impacts and needs. My culture and nursing background has influenced my approach to medicine, to have a positive impact on the patient’s journey.

3.     What are the main things that have helped you feel belonging or connection while working in health care thus far? 

When individuals are in need of medical attention, they are in a very vulnerable situation. I have experienced many situations in my life that I have felt vulnerable. These experiences of fear, fragility, vulnerability and uncertainty have allowed me to relate and connect with patients that have been placed in a situation where much is out of their control.  Challenges in the course of my life have allowed me to be more empathetic to the physical, emotional and psychological vulnerabilities of patients and it provokes compassion that hopefully leads to better quality of care for them.

4.     How do you think each of us can contribute to a sustainable and inclusive workplace? 

We are inundated with policies and ‘political correctness’ that prevent us from getting to the heart of the matter.  Until we are motivated by a love for humanity as a whole, regardless of our differences, inclusivity is a pipe dream or superficial at best.  It is imperative that all begin in a place of genuine care and concern for those that share this life experience.  When we come from a place of love, the change is sustainable through that authenticity and as a community, we will all feel it. This goes beyond the workplace.  If the outside community is tolerant of bigotry, then whatever we do within the workplace is insufficient.  It is bigger than our professional associations, although this is a good start. It requires a shift in attitudes and an intolerance for hatred in whatever form that may be.

5.     If a young person from a country like Burkina Faso or The Ivory Coast is reading this and is feeling inspired to go on a journey like yours, what would you like to say directly to them?

I would tell that young person that you will fall.

You will face challenges and disappointments, but if you are committed to succeeding, then you must continuously persevere, knowing that hardship shall pass. 

Understand that people whom you may or may not know will cross you, impede your progression, and it is important that you embark on the journey expecting to be knocked down but still maintain the vision and drive to stand back up again. 

I would want that person to know that there will be times that they may want to give up but to forge ahead must be the only option. Always reflect on past victories where they had overcome barriers, so that they can continue with resilience to achieve their goals.

I would remind that person to remember who they are; to stay humble and guard against the arrogance of success.  I would hope that that young person would choose to give back to the community from which they came; to make the world a better place.

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