These Nurses Are Building Legacies of Care

Volunteer Story
Photo: Zute Lightfoot.
Photo: Zute Lightfoot.

Editor’s Note: Now, more than ever, we must rely on each other to act with kindness, compassion and empathy. At Operation Smile, it’s our charge to safeguard health and well-being around the world. We’re building upon our expertise in delivering cleft surgery and care in resource-limited settings as well as our history of improving the health and dignity of those we serve. That’s why we’re finding the most meaningful ways that we can support people and their health needs in the communities where we work, even when medical missions are postponed, care centers are closed, and the future feels uncertain. It’s in this uncertainty that our swift action is required, and we’re doing everything that we can to help patients, families, and countries as this affects them. Global ingenuity and solidarity are essential to how we do things. The generosity of supporters like you makes this work possible. If you can, when you can, help us keep our promise to care for people and create hope for tomorrow.  

The selflessness it takes to devote one’s life and energy to improving the well-being of others oftentimes stems from following the example of someone else.

For volunteer clinical coordinator Doreenlove Serwah, it was her mother who instilled a deep desire to be kind, empathetic and driven.

“My mom was a nurse, and I grew up looking up to her,” Doreenlove said. “Her compassion, care and love for us as well as other family members and neighbors had a great impact on me. The only profession I could think of was nursing.”

But she continually felt in her heart that she should make an ever greater difference in the world.

“I read a lot of books in my formative years,” she said. “I realized that most of the characters I read about did some form of volunteering as a means of giving back to society. I was inspired and motivated to do something like that.”

In early 2016, a classmate of Doreenlove’s learned of Operation Smile Ghana’s efforts in recruiting new volunteers to join the organization’s mission of restoring the lives of patients affected by cleft.

In an instant, Doreenlove recognized how she could channel her mother’s courage and compassion into her work. She hasn’t looked back since.

“Through volunteering with (Operation Smile), I found a means to give back to my country,” Doreenlove said. “The joy I experience when I see kids and adults receive free surgeries is worth every sacrifice I’ve made.”

From the very beginning of Doreenlove’s journey as a recovery room nurse with Operation Smile Ghana, education was at the forefront of her volunteerism.

Recognized for her natural ability to teach and be a mentor to others, Doreenlove became an instructor for basic life support and pediatric advanced life support courses.

“Through volunteering with Operation smile, I’ve had a lot of free educational training, which I wouldn’t have gotten for free anywhere else,” she said.

Even then, Doreenlove felt motivated to do more. Ready to harness her skills as an educator and a nurse, Doreenlove sought out the position of clinical coordinator.

“The clinical coordinator role is integral and paramount in the planning and execution of a mission,” she said. “Through that, I’ve discovered capabilities I didn’t know I had.”

As the head nurse in charge of mobilizing a team of volunteers coming from countries all around the world, the clinical coordinator must adapt under pressure, lead confidently while delivering care amidst a chaotic environment and execute essential responsibilities to safeguard the success of every mission: ensuring all medical supplies arrive to the mission site, guaranteeing all procedures remain on schedule during surgery days as well as prioritizing the safety of every patient and volunteer.

Clinical coordinators Doreenlove Serwah, right, and Sally Herman during screening on the first day of an Operation Smile Ghana local mission in 2018. Photo: Zute Lightfoot.
Clinical coordinators Doreenlove Serwah, right, and Sally Herman during screening on the first day of an Operation Smile Ghana local mission in 2018. Photo: Zute Lightfoot.

It was Doreenlove’s quick thinking and commitment to discover the intricacies of every step of the mission that initially made fellow clinical coordinator Sally Herman single her out from the crowd.

“I always had my eye on Doreenlove. She had that same curiosity as I did. She wanted to see the big picture and see how everything comes together,” Sally said. “She was always asking the most important questions and going way above and beyond. Those people stand out to me.”

While the training was intense and demanding, Sally felt confident that Doreenlove would successfully handle the challenges of the position.

“I saw it from day one. That’s something you look for – that ambition, that drive,” Sally said. “It makes me so proud of her that she’s taking it and creating her own ways of getting the same job done.”   

Clinical coordinators Sally and Doreenlove check in on the surgery of a patient during a 2018 Operation Smile Ghana medical mission. Photo: Zute Lightfoot.
Clinical coordinators Sally and Doreenlove check in on the surgery of a patient during a 2018 Operation Smile Ghana medical mission. Photo: Zute Lightfoot.

“I felt privileged to train under Sally because she had such rich experience,” Doreenlove said. “She shared her experiences with me regarding how to critically manage unforeseen events during missions as well as how to manage volunteers and bring them all together.”

Embracing the reality that Doreenlove has transitioned from student to teacher, Sally hopes to one day see her pass on that knowledge and expertise to someone new. It’s by equipping and empowering the next generation of volunteers that Operation Smile will live on.

“If we kept it to ourselves, it would end with us. If you want a legacy, you have to teach,” Sally said. “With Doreenlove, I already see her wanting to teach other people, so I know that she’s going to pass on her skills. That’s throwing the rock into a pond – the ripples keeping growing. She’ll train other clinical coordinators, so it goes on and on and on.”

Emulating what Sally taught her and modifying it into her own way of doing things, Doreenlove shapes the future of the organization and all clinical coordinators who follow her.

“Volunteering with Operation Smile paved the way for me to explore and use my leadership qualities,” Doreenlove said. “I’ve become a better nurse and a mentor to many.”

Photo: Zute Lightfoot.
Photo: Zute Lightfoot.