The Campus Bridge



Sue Murr
PhysiotherapistSue Murr

How do you describe yourself?

My name is Sue Murr, a single American woman who has followed the Lord for long time, and that includes my career, which has always been a vocation and never really been about a job for me. I have worked as a physiotherapist for 34 years in America and 4 years here in Uganda and still love it.

What is a physiotherapist?

Okay, physiotherapy and it is actually called physical therapy where I come from (America) but the rest of the world calls it physiotherapy. Physiotherapy helps people with their motor skills. Therefore, it could be for adults who break their legs or has injuries and need to learn how to walk. I have always worked with children and so it could be for children who have been injured, and are trying to relearn skills. I love to work with children who have delays to learn skills for the first time. These skills may include walking, sitting up, jumping and other large motor skills. It is very challenging.

What specifically do you do in Uganda?

I am fortunate here because I like to do a lot of different things and not the same things all the time. Here, I do get to do physiotherapy in a number of places. I am consistently at CORSU Uganda on Wednesdays because it is Cerebral Palsy Clinic Day. I also meet families and get to work with their children in their homes. Several homes have physiotherapy practices. Therefore, I get to do some volunteering, mentoring, and teaching as I did recently in Mbarara. I also get to use my therapy skills collaborating with different people to help put people with disabilities in wheelchairs.

Where and when did you develop your passion for physiotherapy?

Well, it was intentional on my part. When I was 14 years old, my mama sent me off to volunteer at a home for people with disabilities. I was placed in the physiotherapy department and I worked there for four summers. Because it was a residential programme, I saw many children, even those who seemed hopeless to improve. Many years later, I realized that the Lord called me into a relationship with himself and into a vocation. The amazing thing for me is that I still love this work after all these years. Many people consider it hard work to love children with special needs, but never had to do the work on my own. The Lord loves through me.

What would you point out as differences in terms of privilege and access to facilities by people with special needs compared to the population at large?

I guess medical services are much more advanced in America than here. I worked there for 23 years before moving here. America is renowned world-wide for the care of people with cerebral palsy. There are interventions, diagnostic tool, surgery, and medicines available for people with cerebral palsy. We were not allowed to share Jesus with our patients in the hospital in which I worked.
When I came to Uganda, I realized that you cannot get real history because little has been done in terms of treatment. It seems like Uganda is where America was 50 years ago.

What is amazing here is that I am able to freely share Jesus, which is much more important. The reception has been very good. I often meet families who tell me that they are born again Christians and they pray for their child. Often I say to
them, "That is awesome, and I bet you pray for their physical healing". I encourage them to teach them about Jesus so that they know that one day they will be in heaven and that they will have a new body.

Within the period that you have lived in Uganda, what are some of the challenges you have

Oh yeah, there are so many differences. From a medical standpoint, I had travelled to many different parts of the world before I moved here. I always thought that I would have this mentality, "if only they lived in America and could go to Gillette where I used to work, things could be different." Yet I have not really ever felt that way. Part of it is because of the families I work with; even colleagues do not know what is available there. One of the things I feel so hopeful about is that colleagues here are motivated to make a change. Hence, they are very interested in acquiring new knowledge. They have often said, “Do not refuse to share information with us just because we do not have equipment. How are we ever going to learn if we do not know?” That makes me hopeful about the future of my profession. One of my greatest challenges is the notion that disabilities in children are caused by curses or demon possession. Typically, their mamas and family may be ostracized instead of being welcomed into the community. This attitude adds an extra burden to that child and his or her parent.

Since you have been in Uganda, would you say that therapists have correctly handled people with cerebral palsy?

Actually, that is another challenge. In Uganda, the therapist does not give the family a prognosis or diagnosis by asking if they understand their child's diagnosis. When they tell me, what the problem is, then I explain it to them. As you know, recently I asked you if that was culturally inappropriate, I do not want to be disrespectful and breed further mistrust in the medical community.

In addition to that challenge, we need more therapists. A new programme at Mbarara University is graduating some amazing students with a bachelor’s degree, thereby raising the level of education within the country. Physiotherapy students are even taking some of their preliminary classes with medical students. I hope that as classes continue, physiotherapy students learn by seeing patients with medical students at the hospital. Doctors will also learn more about physiotherapy. As the demand for physiotherapy goes up, there shall be more physiotherapy available.

Is it not boring to work for thirty-eight years at the same job? What keeps you going?

[Giggles…] well, I can only attribute it to the Lord in my life and again, I have never felt it is a job and so cannot envision retiring. I am asked that question a lot. My first answer has always been, “I love working with patients and their families and I don't get tired.” I do not have to do it with my own strength, as long as I stay close to the Lord and he allows me to do that. It is an honor and a privilege. Recently I realized it is also because there are always new things to learn and shared with students. I am somewhat amazed that after thirty-eight years I still do not know everything. There is still a lot to learn, and part of that because I am from a different culture and I see different diagnoses and I have to make decisions about treatments that I am used to.

What changes in physiotherapy would you like to see in Uganda?

Wow, that is a hard question. I have never really been the kind of person who sees myself in relation to the future. But since you have specifically asked, I will say, being a physiotherapist and working with children is physically demanding so most of the colleagues my age have moved into doing less therapy and more either into teaching or administration or something else new. I did that for some years before moving here. Since I moved to Uganda, I do much more physical work so they limit me.

For now, it slows me down but that does not stop me. I have even learned new things; I would like to work with children as long as my health holds up. I cannot imagine stopping this work.

The other thing that I have been interested in lately, which would keep me connected with children with disabilities, is the whole idea of healing from trauma. There is a lot of work going on that around the world. I am not sure anybody has looked at trauma in children who may be nonverbal, and cannot describe their situation. That has been a burden for me in the last few years, and I do not know if I am going to have any role in that or not.

Lastly, as a parent, what advice would you offer to young people considering pursuing life careers??

Good therapists are leaving physiotherapy to study something else, because they want to continue their education. Others are leaving the country and may not come back to Uganda. My general advice to young people is to take time to figure out what you are interested in. I have met many physiotherapists here. When I ask them how it is they got into physiotherapy, they say, "Well I did not even know what it was. I did not qualify for medicine so it is sort of a plan B." anyhow, they found out that they like it.

I want to remain in and push for higher levels of academics. Now, many of the post-secondary school opportunities begin at certificate or diploma level, but more options at bachelors level.



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