International Nurses Day – Interview with Obianuju Okonkwo

Posted by Devon Partnership Trust in News, Nursing on 13th May, 2022

Obianuju (Uju) OkonkwoObianuju (Uju) Okonkwo, is a Mental Health Nurse working at the Coombehaven ward at The Cedars in Exeter. She joined us from Nigeria in February this year. We spoke to her about her experience in the UK so far and why she wanted to become a nurse.

How are you finding the UK?

It’s been a very wonderful experience. It’s really amazing. From the first day I stepped into this country I started liking it. What made me like it so much are the people that I met. I had this ambiance of love all around me. They just welcomed me so well and made sure I got settled in immediately.

I’m staying in a DPT apartment and it’s so beautiful and so comfortable. I have everything at my beck and call and they have listening ears. They are always checking to find out if I’m fine, I’m settling in and if I’m having any challenges. They also want to know how my family are, as my family are in Nigeria. We are making arrangements for them to join me in Exeter.

Basically I would say it’s been a very amazing experience. I’ve not had it this good in a very long time. For me, DPT is the way to go.

What support have you received from DPT?

On arrival, immediately they kick-started everything concerning working here and working well. There’s a lot of difference between the way we work here and the way we worked back in my country. First of all they started orientation training for me and after that they sent me to Yeovil, to a training centre for OSCE. They paid for everything, even my transport, accommodation and food. I didn’t have to spend anything. DPT also took me out on a shopping date! They shopped for my food and everything I would need primarily on arrival. That was really awesome. Then coming to the ward, there is still ongoing training. It’s been a very beautiful experience.

I tried to do the accommodation by myself but I requested assistance from DPT. They were looking for houses for me. Eventually when they found one, they went ahead and did a reference for me to the agent and landlord. Just yesterday I got a call from the landlord telling me I’ve been chosen as a perspective tenant of the house! Honestly, they’ve been very very wonderful. They are an amazing team. I don’t how to explain my experience here but I’ll just tell you it’s awesome.

What made you choose DPT?

It wasn’t based on recommendation, no one told me to go for DPT, it was just something that came from the inside. I put my CV on Indeed and a lot of people invited me for interviews which I did attend, but when the offers came I just handpicked DPT. Then my brother, sometime in 2002, happened to work in the UK and worked at the RD&E hospital. When I mentioned Exeter, he just said “go for it you will love Exeter. Exeter is a good place, it has this family orientation, and you’re going to enjoy raising your kids there.” I’m so passionate about anything that will make my children happy. Once he mentioned that I just went for it.

What is your team at DPT like?

My team, the Coombehaven team, are really wonderful people. They are ready to teach you anytime. No one frowns at me asking questions because I ask a lot! If I don’t I will make mistakes. Human life is not something you want to make mistakes with. Human life is very precious so we have to be careful with it. I ask a lot of questions and they are very happy to answer me at any time.

Sometimes they just go out of their way without me having to ask. They booked some training for me that has helped me catch up fast. There’s a lot to learn here. It’s not all rosy. It’s been very challenging, I have to do a lot of brain work to meet up with their speed. Here the speed is just too much – even the weather! I’m trying to meet up with everything but it’s an experience I’m happy to be having.

Jade the Ward Manager, Clinical Team Leaders Alice and Becky and then the rest of the nurses, health care assistants and students have been very awesome. They are all teaching me, even the students are teaching me! I’m happy to be in their midst and happy to be one of them. I also want to appreciate Malik Saoudi, the Consultant Psychiatrist on Coombehaven ward. He’s also a very wonderful person. I am learning a lot of things from him.

What was your role in Nigeria?

First of all, I worked at a teaching hospital as a Registered General Nurse. Then I moved on to practice as a Mental Health Nurse. But there’s a lot of difference from what I’ve seen here, and what we practice back in Nigeria. Here people know their rights. Back in Africa people don’t really pay much attention to people’s rights. Therefore, back home I can do somethings and make some decisions without carrying the person along but here everything has to happen bearing in mind that a human being is involved and that person has to be carried along 100%.

Honestly for me, I’m happy to be here. I’m learning a lot. It’s a whole new skill for me and I’m sure it’s going to take me to places.

Why did you want to become a nurse?

It’s passion. I’ve always been very passionate about taking care of people and watching them get well. My dad died when I was 15 and I was the one that nursed him because there was no money to keep paying school fees for everyone so my parents chose to take me out of school for the meantime. Then my father had heart failure so he needed someone at home to watch him, so I became his home nurse. I was the one taking him to the hospital and staying with him and helping him take his medications. Going to that hospital and watching patients lose their life due to some mistakes has made me want to take care of people and really do things right. My dad died not because he didn’t make an effort to live but because he wasn’t really getting the right treatment. I blame poverty as well because if he had the resources he would have changed hospital because the care he was getting was quite substandard. Those are the things that actually built up the passion in me to want to do more.

After my father’s demise, my grandmother got ill as well and being the only one at home who wasn’t going to school, I also had to take on her responsibility as well. My grandmother had a stroke and was unconscious for two weeks. For that two weeks I had to stay in the hospital with her, just by myself. When she woke up from her coma, she asked me a question and said “I remember you said after your father’s death that you wanted to be a nurse?” I said yes and she said “how do you get to do it? Because you’re not in school right now?” I told her that I believe I will go back to school and once I go back to school I’m going to really make sure I achieve this dream of mine. I made that promise to my grandma. After she died, I just told myself, Uju you just have to do this - if not for anyone, for your dad and your grandma, so that wherever they are they will be happy and proud of you. That’s really my experience and that’s why I’m here. I’m really delighted to be a nurse. Being a nurse has taken me to places that I never imagined that I would ever be, and Exeter is one of them.

Why mental health nursing?

Honestly, I went into mental health by accident! I never planned for it to happen. I wanted to go into midwifery but sadly I didn’t pass their interview but then mental health pulled through. Honestly for me it’s been awesome because whilst I was at school I met my husband and a year after mental health nursing we got married! I think it’s really a blessing for me becoming a Mental Health Nurse.

Where is your favourite place to visit in Devon?

I like the beaches. They are so beautiful! I’ve been to the holiday camp at Dawlish, also very nice. The beaches will be the first place I take my family! I keep dreaming about how they are going to feel when they see it.