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Spotlight On: Rumbi Anne Gumbie (MSc Sexual & Reproductive Health Research)

In our series of student interviews, we are delighted to turn the spotlight on Rumbi Anne Gumbie. She is a Registered Nurse and Nurse Educator specialising in acute medicine and ambulatory care. She is currently a member of our MARCH student liaison group at LSHTM. Here, Rumbi shares some insightful stories of working in a hospital in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a passion for her research work in East Africa, and career aspirations in maternal, newborn and child health.

I met with Rumbi for a virtual coffee and started with some fun conversation to get to know her a little!

- by Sumire Surano
Rumbi standing at the entrance to LSHTM

Can you tell me three things you would choose to bring if you knew you were going to be stuck on an island and why?

A Swiss knife, moisturiser, and a notebook with a pen!

Sounds a bit strange, but my father gave me a swiss knife. He always used to have it with him and it is a great resource to have when you are outdoors.

A Notebook with a pen maybe because I want to write down everything I observe on the island. I have a very healthy imagination; I can sit in a room for hours in my own thought and I am happy with that.

I would definitely need my cocoa butter moisturiser because I absolutely cannot imagine my skin without it! Even if it only lasted a few days!

If you were stuck with one other person who would it be?

Barack Obama! (Sorry Michelle) I would love to just sit down and talk with him. I am sure he has a lot to say. I can’t wait to read his book!

Where is the best place you’ve travelled to?

Hong Kong. When I first went to Hong Kong, I found it very interesting the way the place was set up. I had a feeling that the country works very well. The people were very friendly and welcoming. I went hiking on Lantau Island and got to see some great landscapes and historical monuments. I remember back then thinking it was the first airport where I had access to WI-FI completely free. I generally liked the culture, museums and history, and the food was amazing!

What chore do you absolutely hate?

Doing the dishes!  

Even if I have a dish washer, I still hate loading it! I know how to cook but it takes too much time.

I love socialising, I like parties, I am a very social person. I would rather eat out than cook at home and as long as I don’t need to do the dishes, I am happy.

March Student Liaisons with Prof Joy lawn in front of a Christmas Tree
Rumbi was one of the 2019/2020 MARCH Student liaisons, they're pictured here with MARCH's director, Joy Lawn

Tell us a little bit about your background...?

My family are Zimbabwean and that's where I had my formative education years. It was just beautiful and wonderful to grow up there. We moved around a lot because of my Father’s job. We moved to Botswana first when I was three, I don’t remember that time very much.  Then on to South Africa before moving to Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe and South Africa are very close to each other but the experience of living in SA was quite different. My parents moved us back to the UK when I was 15 and obviously living in the UK was also very different.

After becoming a nurse in UK, what made you decide to come to join LSHTM to study reproductive and sexual health?

"I am a Nurse Educator and worked in the middle-east where I was in charge of different clinical settings within a large teaching hospital...  I got more and more interested in reproductive issues. So, when I found a course at LSHTM and its focus was on sexual and reproductive health, I felt like this is a masters that I wanted to do."

I have always been interested in women’s issues.

I am a Nurse Educator and worked in the middle-east where I was in charge of different clinical settings within a large teaching hospital. I supported the educational needs of Nurses who worked in the Obstetrics and Gynecology and Neonatal Intensive Care units. I facilitated educational workshops which included Kangaroo Mother Care, new procedures and assessing practical competencies. I had a lot of contact time with pregnant women through obstetric health assessments.

Its the time I had to have a lot of specialised knowledge in this area as I found myself teaching midwives and nurses, I got more and more interested in reproductive issues. So, when I found a course at LSHTM and its focus was on sexual and reproductive health, I felt like this is a masters that I wanted to do.

Before coming to LSHTM, I was working with an NGO which is based in Denver, Colorado and does community development in Uganda and Rwanda focusing on HIV/AIDS awareness through educational messaging and community-based rapid testing. We also worked with local health providers on programs such as cervical cancer screenings and voluntary male medical circumcisions, and supported a maternal health centre where I supported midwives and community health workers.  I was able to use my Nurse Education skills as well as quality improvement work to conduct monitoring and evaluation of their programs and I still work with them remotely. I became interested in improving the quality of reproductive health especially in low-resource hard-to-reach settings.

When I heard about MARCH, this felt like a natural fit so I took the chance when they were looking for student representatives and applied.

You went back to work in a hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic to support the NHS. What led you to that decision and what was the experience like?

'It felt quite surreal, as there was more media attention, we started to hear that people who looked like me were more likely to die or become very sick, actually four times more likely! It was all I thought about when I was unwell, wondering if I would be counted."

Well even before the pandemic I continued doing half shifts during the weekends to support myself financially. When hospitalisations increased due to the virus back in early March, I started to get calls from the hospital HR, who really needed staff and wanted to know if I could work more shifts. I really wanted to help out so I accepted, which meant that I was now working more like three days a week, just because the demand was very high.

Right after I started working, unfortunately I contracted COVID-19. It wasn’t just me; it was me and every nurse I worked with or knew.  Very early on, especially at the time when they didn’t really know much about the virus, it was kind of happening to all of us. Every nurse was calling and self-isolating one after the other, it was quite scary. One day I came home and I also had a fever. So, I called them to say that I was self-isolating and I ended up self-isolated for 14 days. I don't know how the virus interacted with me but I really felt that I couldn’t get out of my bed.

Selfie picture of Rumbi wearing blue NHS uniform
Rumbi took on extra shifts as a nurse to help the NHS at the start of the pandemic - whilst still studying for her MSc.

It was a very confusing time because it happened very early on in the pandemic, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) wasn't available, testing wasn't being done so I couldn't even get a test but there was no doubt obviously. I worked on a ‘COVID ward’ and I remember we were not allowed to wear face masks because they were in short supply and being reserved for ICU. There were also issues about reporting of daily stats. People were hearing how many people were dying every day when we were right in the middle of it and the numbers didn’t seem to add up. It felt quite surreal, as there was more media attention, we started to hear that people who looked like me were more likely to die or become very sick, actually four times more likely! It was all I thought about when I was unwell, wondering if I would be counted. I was very angry with how it was being managed.

Now, when I look at what's going on, I can see that the country has got it better handled than they had right at the beginning and it's much safer to be working now.

How did you get through the highly stressful time?

“I got a lot of support from my tutor, summer project supervisor, also from student support services and the Director of my Masters. Like it was LSHTM as whole group who supported me and I’m really grateful for that.”

I am not sure why but I cut my hair! It was kind of a way to stay in control I suppose. There were some positive moments in all this which kept us all going.  As far as patient care was concerned, there was a quite a lot of teamwork. The team really came together; Doctors, Nurses, Respiratory therapists, and even Physiotherapists and people who have desk jobs, came together and everybody wanted to help.

There was a lot of focus on the nursing side to make sure that even though the relatives were not allowed to come in, they were able to speak to their loved ones especially before being intubated or if sometimes there was nothing else that could be done.

You really had to draw on all the acute nursing skills you were taught in nursing school as nothing like this had been seen before. It was about holistic care, that is what I held onto to survive this period that nobody really knew what they were treating.

It was tough mentally but I was very lucky that I got support from LSHTM and also from my family. It was always good to get away from the environment and have something else to focus on.

I got a lot of support from my tutor, summer project supervisor, also from student support services and the Director of my Masters. Like it was LSHTM as whole group who supported me and I’m really grateful for that.

At that time I was thinking that I was helping out and I did feel that I made a difference in the middle of a pandemic like this that last happened a hundred years ago. Everyone was experiencing it for the first time so to be a part of it and to have survived it was a once in a lifetime experience. We don’t know what the future holds but hopefully I made a difference among some of the patients.

Tell us what you are working on?

For my summer project, I am doing a policy analysis. I am looking at the antenatal policies of seven low- and middle-income countries; Sierra Leone, DRC, Guatemala, Myanmar, Cambodia, Pakistan and Uzbekistan. Matching the implementation of antenatal care policies to the coverage data that is available. It is very interesting because I get to spend time looking at countries in the context of ANC, getting to know about how the countries operate. The project is for the World Health Organization and I had meetings with them and found the experience really interesting and amazing. I had to have a submission extension but I feel I am in a better frame of mind and better able to concentrate.

Video call between Rumbi and Sumire, Rumbi is big on the screen and Sumire can be seen as a smaller box in the right hand corner
Sumire interviewed Rumbi over video call - the 'new normal'.

What are your future prospects?

I am going to continue onto the DrPH programme. I have chosen this over the PhD because I have more professional experience than academic experience and I am also interested in policy making which that degree allows for. I am giving myself a year break. I am also going to apply to the Harvard Chan School of Public Health and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to expand my horizons. (Maybe I need to get out of London for a while)

Where would you like to work in the future?

Africa. I worked in East Africa and lived in Southern Africa and have found that there is great value in being in a place that fits you, with people who look like you. So, I definitely want to work in Africa. I would love a chance to move to Rwanda, Uganda or any of the East African countries.

For those who are interested in the work Rumbi does with an NGO: www.globallivingston.org 

Interviewed on 13th August 2020. For further information please contact Sumire – MARCH B-theme Liaisons: Sumire.Nishijima-Sorano@student.lshtm.ac.uk

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