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Nursing Graduate Hopes to Improve Childbirth in Ethiopia

Afrah Mohammed poses for a photo.Afrah Mohammed, a senior nursing student at the University of St. Thomas, has always been attracted to working in healthcare.

While growing up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, she was inspired by the 2007 documentary “A Walk to Beautiful." The film examines obstetric fistula, a childbirth injury that pushes the patient to live in isolation because of the condition's unavoidable odor and causes her subsequent marginalization by society due to the condition.

Mohammed admired how Dr. Catherine Hamlin, an Australian who started the Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia, ensured women have holistic and compassionate healthcare to heal both the physical and mental wounds caused by obstetric fistula.

“Her work really moved me,” Mohammed said about the doctor, who treated girls whose conditions were often caused by childbirth at an early age. “As a child at the time, it really broke my heart to see these children suffering from preventable complications.”

Pursuing the Dream

After moving to Houston in 2011, Mohammed had the chance to pursue her true passion — nursing — and become the first in her family to work in healthcare.

Just as Dr. Hamlin helped her patients, not just physically but also psychologically, UST’s nursing curriculum takes a holistic approach to the profession. For that reason, Mohammed was attracted to the UST program.“For healing to be able to occur, a nurse must be able to sense or feel how an illness is affecting the patient’s every day life,” Mohammed said. “A nurse should be able to give a patient a sense of hope for healing to begin. We have to figure out medication, how to fix the problem, healing, not only treating the pathophysiology but treating the mind, body, spirit.”

Hard Work Meets Experience

Mohammed transferred from Houston Community College to UST’s Peavy School of Nursing. In addition to mastering English and balancing her roles as a wife and mother to a 4-year-old son, Mohammed maintained a nearly 4.0 GPA.

This spring Dr. Poldi Tschirch, dean of the nursing school, nominated Mohammed for the Houston Chronicle’s Salute to Nurses program. For her exemplary academic record, leadership and integrity, Mohammed was one of three students selected to earn a $1,000 scholarship and recognition in a special section of the paper on May 2.

She graduates this month and will join 333 undergraduates and 522 graduate students for the 68th University of St. Thomas Commencement Ceremony at 1 p.m. on Saturday, May 18 at Smart Financial Centre in Sugar Land, 18111 Lexington Blvd.

Having completed a clinical rotation at Memorial Hermann Hospital in the Texas Medical Center in the labor and delivery unit and postpartum care unit, Mohammed aspires to work in the mother and baby or women’s health field of nursing.

“Once I get enough experience with hands-on skills, then I want to go back to school for midwifery,” she said. “My home is in Houston, but I want to go back and forth to Ethiopia and give a hand up to women there.”

Tschirch sees a bright future for Mohammed.

“She will be what nurses should always be — a healthcare professional dedicated to assist in the healing process of each and every patient and giving back to society what they obtained through their own struggle and determination.”