Beyond white coat: Healthcare workers fighting for their lives while saving others

Writer: Elias Musiime. PHOTO/FILE/COURTESY 

What you need to know:

  • Despite their expertise, many health workers with chronic illnesses often face skepticism from colleagues, supervisors and clients who question their ability to perform their duties effectively.

Behind the pristine white coats and reassuring smiles lies stories of pain, fatigue and relentless perseverance. These are healthcare workers (doctors, nurses, laboratory professionals), who despite grappling with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure etc, continue to tirelessly care for the sick and infirm. Their courage, perseverance and unwavering commitment illuminate the often-overlooked intersection of caregiving and personal struggle within the healthcare profession.

Among these extraordinary individuals is Samson Kiwumulo , who manages Type 1 diabetes while conducting laboratory tests at Sembabule Health Center IV with precision and compassion. Diagnosed at a young age, Samson commonly known as Musawo Sam initially struggled to reconcile his own health challenges with his desire to pursue a career in healthcare. However, with determination and support from his parents, he found a way to balance his insulin regimen with the demands of his profession. Today, Sam serves as a beacon of hope for others with diabetes, proving that chronic illness need not to be a barrier to compassionate caregiving.

On several occasions, Sam is struck by low sugar episodes that leave him unconscious on the specimen collection table. This happens because he often misses breakfast and lunch while attending to numerous patients seeking laboratory tests. Just like Sam, there are still many other health workers whose lives are on the line but can not give up on their noble profession of saving the lives of others. Their reluctance to throw in the towel stems from a culture that valorizes selflessness and stoicism in the healthcare profession. Fearing stigma or discrimination, many choose to suffer in silence, concealing their conditions to avoid perceived weakness or vulnerability.

Despite their expertise, many health workers with chronic illnesses often face skepticism from colleagues, supervisors and clients who question their ability to perform their duties effectively. This not only undermines their confidence but also perpetuates harmful stereotypes that marginalize individuals with chronic illness within the healthcare workforce. The constant juggling act of prioritizing patient care while neglecting their own well-being takes a profound toll on their health and quality of life.

Moreover, the lack of institutional support exacerbates their plight, with meager salaries, limited insurance cover, inflexible work schedules and limited access to healthcare resources, further complicating their ability to manage their conditions effectively. As they navigate the demanding terrain of healthcare, their own needs often take a backseat, relegated to the periphery of an all-consuming profession.

Despite the myriad challenges they face, healthcare workers exemplify resilience in its purest form. Their ability to persevere in the face of adversity, to find solace in the act of healing others, is nothing short of inspirational and Kimuwulo Samson is indeed motivational. Driven by a sense of purpose and unwavering commitment to their patients, they defy the limitations imposed by their conditions, embodying the essence of compassion and dedication.

The work of such professionals is a testament to the human spirit’s capacity to transcend physical limitations, to finding meaning and fulfillment in service to others. From the oncologist undergoing chemotherapy to the physical therapist managing chronic pain, each embodies a quiet strength that belies their outward struggles. It is incumbent upon society, government and private health employers to recognize and honor their contributions, to provide support and resources they need to thrive in both personal and professional lives.

Moreover, raising awareness about their plight is essential in garnering public support and appreciation for their sacrifices. By sharing their stories, we can amplify their voices, shining a spotlight on the silent heroes who embody the true spirit of selfless service.  We must actively work to dismantle the stigma surrounding chronic illness in the healthcare profession and foster a culture of inclusivity and support.

*The writer, Elias Musiime, is a Medical Laboratory Scientist and Quality Manager at C-Lab Uganda/C-care Uganda.