USF College of Nursing Dr. Cheedy Jaja assists the frontlines of Sierra Leone, Africa
When the global call for help sounded during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014, Dr. Cheedy Jaja didn’t think twice.
As a nurse, he knew he needed to stand up and contribute, he recalled. During two humanitarian tours of duty in Sierra Leone, Jaja, who is also trained in psychiatry and mental health, left long afterward profoundly traumatized. He says the tours made him feel overwhelmed, unprepared, depressed and panicked.
But the experience also forged a new direction and purpose in his life, one coming to fruition during the current COVID-19 pandemic, in which he sees disturbing parallels to the Ebola crisis.
It was a direction that would lead him to his new post in August 2021 as associate professor and assistant dean of global engagement at USF Health’s College of Nursing.
“For me, what I really find very difficult to embrace, to make sense of,” he said, “is the fact that the same issues that we had experienced as volunteers in Sierra Leone with Ebola, I noticed the same issues here in the United States, even having one of the best health care delivery systems in the world.”
That includes the lack of preparation, protective equipment and support for nurses–physically and psychologically – on the frontlines of care.
It also includes the social view of pandemics as “cultural problems” – like eating bush meat or animals from wet markets as the cause of disease outbreaks – as opposed to weaknesses or breakdowns in public health systems.
Jaja, originally from Sierra Leone, has more than 12 years of experience providing clinical and psychosocial care primarily to patients with sickle cell disease, and three decades teaching in nursing, social sciences and the humanities across the United States. He arrives most recently from a position as an associate professor in the College of Nursing at the University of South Carolina.
At USF, Jaja is working to align a vision for global health engagement with the College of Nursing’s strategic plan. He started off 2022 working the frontlines of clinics in Sierra Leone. He’s looking into establishing partnerships with institutions in South America, Africa and Europe, where USF students can study how healthcare is delivered in diverse settings with varying levels of care and resource availability.
He’s excited to support faculty in extending their research in multiple global settings.
Additionally, he wants to help prepare nurses for future pandemics and natural disasters in ways that balance their professional responsibilities with personal care and safety.
To all these ends, it is essential that nurses have a seat at the table in leadership posts and policy making decisions, he said.
Given nurses’ enormous presence in the health care workforce, he noted, nurses are in the perfect position to be trained and empowered with new skills to meet emerging healthcare challenges.
“We need to upskill nurses,” he said. One example is training nurses to perform genetic counseling or to screen infants for sickle cell disease in delivery rooms. Nurses can also be trained more to provide these independent specialized care services in limited resource settings.
Jaja brought with him almost $1 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health to train nurses to provide these specialized health services in Sierra Leone.
His professional and personal experience has all led him to this point, where he can channel a vision of nursing education into a global framework.
Reflecting on his new USF position, he added: “Not everyone has a luxury of choice. We all have dreams. Now and then our dreams gain wings, and when they gain wings, you soar and fly.”
Story by Saundra Amrhein
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