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Compassion, humility, and advocacy as embodied by Nurse Albertina Sisulu

- Wits University

Prof. Lionel Green-Thompson is the Dean of the School of Medicine at the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University.

He is an alumnus of Wits University and the former Assistant Dean: Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits. Green-Thompson delivered the keynote address at a Wits Faculty of Health Sciences graduation ceremony on Thursday, 6 December 2018.

He opened with a traditional isiZulu greeting, "Sawubona", literally translated, "I see you". He encouraged the audience to greet the person behind them with "Sawubona".

Prof. Lionel Green Thompson, formerly Assistant Dean Teaching and Learning at Wits, delivered the keynote address at the FHS graduation in December 2018

Real recognition

"But how often do we really see a person?" said Green-Thompson.

He spoke about his own graduation in 1988 when he and other black students arranged a separate graduation ceremony in Lenasia, south of Johannesburg, to communicate their alienation. “We prepared our own snacks. I don’t know if we were even missed,” he says.

Wits University has since “bravely embraced the challenges of transformation” and today’s graduands have a responsibility to contribute towards South Africa, said Green-Thompson. He recognised that the Class of 2018 entered higher education in 2015 – the beginning of a tumultuous period in higher education when student protest erupted countrywide and set South African education on an irreversible trajectory.

Green-Thompson acknowledged the courage it took these graduands to challenge their teachers, and urged them to reflect on the healthcare professional they had become because of their protest – a professional identity possibly modelled on the flames of protest.

Protest and professional identity

Green-Thompson’s own parents are healthcare professionals – his father, a doctor, his mother, a nurse – both role models who were his first example of social responsibility. Green-Thompson himself is married to a nurse.

Albertina Sisulu was a nurse and high-profile anti-apartheid leader and activist. Ma Sisulu (whose centenary it is in 2018) signed the certificates that Green-Thompson and his cohort received at their protest graduation in Lenasia in 1988. Green-Thompson encouraged graduands to adopt a professional identity modelled on the values that Ma Sisulu embodied – compassion, humility, and advocacy.

Compassion, humility, advocacy

Ma Sisulu communicated a person’s true value and dignity, said Green-Thompson, adding that for many patients, the graduands as healthcare practitioners would be the only people ever to affirm their patients’ dignity.

“Albertina Sisulu exuded power because humility was her touchstone,” said Green-Thompson. This enabled her to engage with state presidents and sick children alike.

Advocacy refers to nurturing the ability to respond to the needs of others, said Green-Thompson.

“We are what we do to change who we are.”

About Prof. Lionel Green-Thompson

Green-Thompson enrolled to study medicine at Wits in 1982 and completed his MBBCh in 1988. After some time in general practice, he entered the Anaesthetic Registrar programme at Wits and completed the Fellowship in Anaesthesia through the College of Medicine.

Green-Thompson’s main research interest is the social accountability of health professionals and developing responsiveness to the needs of a community. His Master’s in Medicine reflected on the quality of anaesthetic services at selected Gauteng Hospitals. His PhD in Health Sciences Education explored the idea of social accountability in the practice and education of medicine in South Africa. He has published articles in both local and international journals on both anaesthesiology and health sciences education.