Adwoa Agyekum: making a difference in patients’ lives through compassion and empathy
When Radford University Carilion (RUC) family nurse practitioner (FNP) student Adwoa Agyekum migrated to the United States from Ghana 11 years ago, she had no idea she would find herself on the front lines of a global pandemic as it swept through southwest Virginia in 2020.
After earning her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (B.S.N.) degree in 2017 from what was then Jefferson College of Health Sciences (JCHS), Agyekum went to work at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital (CRMH) on the Medical-Surgical Progressive Care Unit. Last spring, that unit temporarily became a COVID-19 treatment area.
During the pandemic, Agyekum said she has held patients’ hands in their time of need and has been the voice of loved ones who can’t be with their relatives in the hospital.
"It brings me satisfaction to be there for the patient and family through these difficult times,” she said.
That compassion and empathy are typical for Agyekum, defining how she pursues her career as a nurse and her education as a family nurse practitioner.
“I have always wanted to support, care for and make a difference in people’s lives,” she said. “That's why I love being a nurse. Being an advocate for patients and their families, and giving them a voice, is an important part of why I do what I do.”
In 2010, Agyekum decided to join her family in the United States. Her father had come to America almost three decades before, and her mother and brother had more recently made the transition as well. Agyekum decided to make the move so she could further her education and become a nurse, a dream she had since she was a child.
Attending college in the United States not only gave Agyekum a wide variety of educational institutions to choose from, but it also provided her with more opportunity to have a lucrative, fulfilling career once she graduated.
“Currently, middle-class healthcare providers are not established in Ghana,” Agyekum said. “In the United States, I could do more to further my education and my career.”
Agyekum chose JCHS for her nursing program and began working diligently to earn her B.S.N. degree. While she was doing her clinical rotations at CRMH on the neuro trauma ICU, however, Agyekum found inspiration in a nurse practitioner (NP) who worked there.
“There was a particular NP who always came in early to interact with the nurses before the attending and residents rounded to see the patients,” Agyekum recalled. “Because she had a nursing background, she was attentive to the needs of the nurses, and she cared about what they thought and felt.”
Agyekum said seeing how the NP acted as an advocate for nurses and patients led her to an epiphany that she wanted to do the same thing. She began researching what it took to become an NP and discovered that there was a program at the school where she was earning her B.S.N.
“I knew from that moment that I would be applying to the family nurse practitioner program at RUC,” Agyekum said. “I was convinced that by furthering my education, I could deepen my commitment to the continuity of care for patients.”
After graduating with her B.S.N. in 2017, Agyekum began working as a nurse for Carilion Clinic. It was the career she had always dreamed of and wanted, but she kept thinking back to the NP she had worked with as an undergraduate. She felt there was more for her to accomplish and more that she could do as a nursing and patient advocate.
Soon, she applied for and was accepted into the family nurse practitioner (FNP) program at RUC, which leads to a Master of Science in Nursing (M.S.N.) degree. The program is designed to prepare registered nurses with graduate-level academic knowledge and clinical skills to practice as advanced practice registered nurses in the roles of clinicians, educators, leaders and scholars. It builds on the knowledge and experience they already have to advance to the next level of patient care.
The program consists of 50 credit hours of coursework and 605 clinical hours distributed over eight consecutive semesters on a part-time basis. The program is delivered using a hybrid of online and on-campus coursework. Students participate in up to three intensives to develop hands-on skills through advanced workshops and skills assessments.
The FNP program at RUC is designed specifically for working nurses who need the flexibility to complete the program while maintaining their current employment. Graduates are eligible for national certification exams through one of two certifying bodies — the American Nurses Credentialing Center (AACN) or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).
FNPs diagnose and treat acute and chronic conditions, collaborate with interdisciplinary team members and partner with patients on maintaining health and wellness in primary care, with a particular focus on preventative care. The FNPs provide comprehensive, cost-effective and population-based care across the lifespan similar to those of physicians.
Agyekum proudly says that she will be the first person in her family to pursue formal education and earn a master’s degree.
“Many generations before me did not have the opportunity,” Agyekum said, “but I will lead by example, to educate and support generations after me to pursue higher education.”
The good news for Agyekum was that despite the challenges to in-person instruction during the COVID pandemic, she was able to continue learning and growing as she worked as a nurse.
“COVID threw those of us in the healthcare community some curveballs,” she said. “But with teamwork and support from our organizations, we’re thriving despite the challenges. A lot has been discovered along my journey as a nurse.”
Agyekum expects to graduate from the FNP program in May 2022. At this point in her program, she is going through clinical rotations and hasn’t decided what specialty she will go into yet. That hasn’t stopped her from imagining what the future may look like for her.
“In the long term, I would like to give back to Ghanaians by volunteering in public health education. I want to create health promotion and prevention awareness to increase their quality of life,” she said. “I will use that opportunity as a gateway and a platform to reach out to the leaders of Ghana about the importance of having middle-class providers to alleviate stress on medical doctors.”
Agyekum said that as she volunteers to educate and advocate about health issues, she plans to continue living and working in the U.S. with long-term hopes of moving to Ghana in the future.
For now, Agyekum feels fortunate for the opportunities she’s had and for the fortitude to achieve all she has in her life.
“I have been favored and graced by God every step I take because sometimes I had doubts, but I trusted in him,” she said. “I know that he will take me to higher heights through my education and career.”