Docia Kisseih was a leading Ghanaian nurse, midwife and educator. She was Ghana’s first Chief Nursing Officer following independence and through her long career helped modernise and pioneer nursing as a profession.
Docia Kisseih was born in Odumase, Manya Krobo and was educated at local Presbyterian schools through infant and secondary school. She attended Krobo Girls Senior High School, before boarding at Achimota School to obtain her Cambridge Higher School Certificate in 1938.
After the death of her mother, Kisseih’s grandmother, a trained midwife herself, would bring all five of her grandchildren with her when working overnight. This would be where the teenage Docia would first witness a delivery. She continued to accompany her grandmother to births during her holidays from college.
In 1940, Kisseih started her career at Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, enrolling for three years of nursing training and specialising in midwifery. After qualifying as a midwife, in 1943 she began her thirty year tenure at Korle Bu.
She then obtained further nursing, midwifery and public health qualifications in Britain during the 1950s, both at the Nightingale School and the Royal College of Nursing.
Kisseih became the first president and founder of the Ghana Registered Nurses Association (GRNA) that was formed in 1960 through the merging of two nursing bodies. She was also a member of the National Health Planning Committee and the Nurses and Midwives Board.
In 1961, Kisseih was made Chief Nursing Officer of Ghana. She was the first Chief Nursing Officer in the newly independent Ghana.
As Chief Nursing Officer she oversaw a development of formal nursing training and a standardisation of nursing and health care in Ghana. Kisseih envisioned having at least 10% of Ghanaian nursing professionals be university graduates and in 1980, the first BSc and BA degree programs in nursing were taught at the University of Ghana, Lagon.
She helped develop and implement new nursing and maternal health curriculums and programmes with the World Health Organisation and oversaw the expansion of the Ghanaian nurse “from the hospital context to a community multifaceted role”.
Kisseih continued to work at Korle Bu Hospital until her retirement from nursing in 1974.
From 1975 and 1981, she was appointed as a lecturer in the Department of Nursing at the University of Ghana and in 1980 obtained her doctorate from Boston University. In obtaining her doctorate, Kisseih became the first Ghanaian nurse to hold a post-graduate degree.
Kisseih also served as a member of the Board of Directors of the International Council of Nurses (1969-73) and later became their first vice-president (1973-77).
Throughout her career, Kisseih was also a former President of the Ghana Registered Nurses and Midwives Council and stood on the World Health Organizations Expert Advisory Panel.
Kisseih was also involved with voluntary organisations in Ghana, such as St John Ambulance and the Ghana Red Cross Society.
The University of Ghana presented Kisseih with an honorary Doctorate of Laws degree for her contribution to nursing in Ghana on her 89th birthday, shortly before her passing in 2008.
During her career, Kisseih wrote about the history of professional nursing and the reality of a colonial nursing education in Ghana. In the International Journal of Nursing Studies, Kisseih set out what plans had been put in place for the future of Ghanaian health care and nursing and talks about its history. In regards to the latter, she highlights that nursing education in Ghana varied widely and lacked standardisation. Because of the lack of qualified candidates locally, senior nursing posts were most often held by women who had trained abroad, mostly in Britain.
Hester Klopper, L. R. Uys, The State of Nursing and Nursing Education in Africa, Sigma Theta Tau 2012, pp 103-111 (accessed online, from Google Books)