Meet MPH Student Bridget Nandawula

A portrait of Bridget Nandawula

"Born and raised in Uganda, I am proud to be an African woman who has the opportunity to pursue a First World education in the service of my people. I graduated from Kampala International University of Science and Technology with a diploma in Clinical Medicine and Community Health. I was hired by Engeye Health Clinic, a health center in the heart of Ddegeya village in rural Uganda as a medical Clinical Officer. Engeye empowers the people of Ddegeya by supporting compassionate health care, education, and community development initiatives. It provides general medical services, laboratory services, HIV treatment, maternity services, immunization, family planning, cervical cancer screening, ultrasound scan services and community outreach and education among others.

The clinic is also an international internship site for UAlbany MPH students. I was privileged to co-mentor UAlbany MPH students each summer— an experience that would later evoke my interest in the MPH program here at UAlbany.

My clinical roles at Engeye were similar to a physician or nurse practitioner in the United States. Some of my clinical responsibilities included providing full spectrum primary care to adults, children and newborns, providing health education to patients and village health teams, offering HIV and PMTCT counseling services, providing short and long-term family planning via PACE partnership in addition to cervical cancer screening. While at Engeye, I worked my way up from Junior Clinical Officer to Clinical Officer In Charge; living my dream of providing compassionate health care in addition to managing and supervising all clinical staff on-site at Engeye. I provided training and support to visiting medical mission teams, working closely with the visiting physicians who came to the health center to volunteer. I also compiled, weekly, monthly and quarterly reports to the Ugandan Ministry of Health. One role that I greatly enjoyed was supervising UAlbany School of Public Health interns each summer.

Attending to my patients every day in a rural setting pushed me to learn quickly. Patient awareness and understanding was extremely limited. They understood very little about their conditions, causes and prevention. Many of them had a myth or stereotype about what was causing their illness or about services like family planning and immunization. Each required time and understanding. Many had walked miles to see me. Many of these conditions could have been prevented if these patients had access to the necessary information. Many believed it was witchcraft. The myths surrounding family planning also caused many unwanted pregnancies that would later end in complications of unsafe abortion or even death as abortion itself is illegal in Uganda. Many of my patients would end up with yet another child that they could not afford to feed or educate. It could be overwhelming at times and I began to better understand the frustration and disappointment of my fellow health care providers.

While supervising the MPH interns, I realized that there was a lot more to compassionate health care clinical medicine. All of this exposure forced me to reconsider my career path. My initial interest in providing compassionate health care remained intact, but now I felt I could help more to a wider base. Working at Engeye I began asking myself questions like “What if people lived healthier lives, practiced preventive medicine, and took precautions against illness and disease?”

The desire to approach the patient at the community level grew stronger every passing day. I wished to focus on preventive medicine versus only seeing my patients when they are already sick. My patients included the very poor who couldn’t afford medical care let alone a meal, orphaned children from child headed families often orphaned by HIV, small children hungry and uneducated, families overwhelmed by the number of children due to lack of family planning education, sick babies due to lack of access to safe water and so many other desperate situations. All of this made me yearn for more knowledge about how I can apply this knowledge to find some solutions.

Uganda is in need of major help in terms of a complete health systems overhaul; especially in such a way that health care is made increasingly available to those who have heretofore not been able to afford it. In pursuing my MPH at UAlbany, I seek the tools to make this possible.

I hope to collaborate with NGOs, education institutions, health organizations and government agencies to create pathways for much needed quality health care for all, especially the less privileged from rural communities. I sincerely want to improve myself, the community and world in general. I believe it will take knowledge and hard work and many of us doing all we can. The University at Albany is the best place for me to realize my professional goals and to learn how to make the most constructive contribution possible to the lives of others. Everyone has been so supportive in helping me realize my dream. I love the diversity that the University offers and in particular the SPH community offers. I couldn’t have chosen a better place to pursue my dream. I would choose it all over again." 

- Bridget Nandawula, MPH student