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Walden Magazine // Jan 01, 2015

Lifelong Learners: Mindful Medicine

Marren Chunga talks about how she’s becoming a better nurse in Kenya by studying psychology—again

Marren Chunga. Photo credit: Gibel Kuria.

Marren Chunga.
Photo credit: Gibel Kuria.

The little girl watched as her father suddenly lost control, shaking violently, convulsing in his chair, then falling to the floor. She was just 9 years old. She was alone with him in their house in Kisumu, by the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya, and she was absolutely terrified.

“I felt helpless,” remembers Marren Chunga ’11. “I didn’t know what to do.”

So Chunga did what came naturally: She comforted him until her older sisters arrived and took him to the hospital. And she helped care for him when he returned home.

This frightening chapter in Chunga’s life didn’t just drive her to pursue a career in nursing—it also showed her that there’s more to medical care than physical assessment and treatment. Patients need doctors and nurses who recognize the importance of compassion and empathy and understand how the human brain processes distress, pain, and tragedy.

After obtaining a degree in general nursing and midwifery and working as a charge nurse in the accident and emergency department at The Nairobi Hospital, Chunga began her journey at Walden by completing her MS in Psychology. She’s now pursuing her second degree: a PhD in Psychology, with a specialization in Health Psychology.

“I liked the honest and sincere support I got at Walden and the mission of making a difference in society,” she says. “I was able to evolve from being a nurse to being something more. And now I can go out there and make a positive social change.”

Chunga’s psychology training helped her rise to the position of nurse administrator in charge of the surgical wards, the operating room, and the pediatric ward at The Nairobi Hospital, where she worked for 30 years. Her psychology education allowed her to take a holistic approach to nursing—caring for the patient’s medical and mental well-being.

That holistic approach was essential when a 42-year-old banker came to the hospital with chest pain. He was told he was having an evolving heart attack, but he didn’t want to face the facts. He didn’t want to be admitted or treated and wanted to go home. Chunga was able to talk him through what was happening and learn important information from him that he’d hidden from the other nurses, including that he smoked and drank quite a bit, and that he was afraid to tell his family what had happened.

“By talking to him and educating him respectfully while understanding his perspective and his fears, I was able to make him feel comfortable and not rushed,” she says. “He understood and agreed to call his family and be admitted.”

Once she completes her PhD, Chunga hopes to go into consultancy while working with policymakers to provide expertise on health issues from a psychologist’s perspective.

“Walden helped me make a difference for myself so that I can make a difference in my community,” she says. “I don’t know of any other university that does that.”