A Nurse Practitioner’s Journey from Ghana to North Carolina
When Gifty Bawre, a nurse practitioner at Prospero Health, was in her late teens, she moved from Ghana to the United States to pursue an undergraduate degree. As she was getting settled at her aunt and uncle’s home in Asheville, North Carolina, Gifty received some devastating news from her family back in West Africa: her grandmother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Growing up, Gifty and her grandmother were quite close. After Gifty’s father passed away when she was six, she and her brother went to live with relatives. Gifty’s mother and grandmother shared a house nearby, and Gifty would visit them often.
“I was very close with my grandmother,” Gifty said. “[All the kids] were. We knew her, we went to her house. She always gave us good advice, to be good girls and to not follow the boys around and to get our education.”
Learning her grandmother was sick changed the trajectory of Gifty’s life. Having once dreamed of becoming a lawyer, she decided to pursue nursing so that she could participate in her grandmother’s care, even if only from afar.
“There was nobody in the family with a medical background. My grandmother fell and broke her hip and wasn’t able to walk, so I wanted to learn how to help. I was able to advise the cousins who were taking care of her with the knowledge I acquired [in a certified nursing assistant course]. Unfortunately, she died before I was able to go back to see her.”
While grieving this loss, Gifty realized she had a special talent for taking care of people, especially older adults. Her natural warmth and compassion made her a quick favorite with the residents at the nursing home where she worked after earning her nursing assistant degree.
“All my patients told me they wanted me to come back and care for them because I was gentle and made them feel like they were somebody. I thought, ‘If this is the effect I have on people, maybe I should look into becoming a nurse.’”
As she pondered her career options, Gifty found support and familiarity in the large community of Ghanaian immigrants in North Carolina, including her extended family. When she first arrived in Asheville, her aunt and uncle allowed her to stay with them rent-free, so she was able to save up to buy a car and eventually venture out on her own. After two years in Asheville, she discovered that a friend from her boarding school days in Ghana had moved to Charlotte. They reconnected, moved into an apartment together, and were roommates until they both found partners and got married.
Gifty’s passion for nursing and her versatility as a provider allowed her to thrive in a variety of healthcare settings. While training to become a family nurse practitioner, she worked in a hospital’s oncology department. The hospital hired her for a full-time role after she graduated, and she stayed there for 12 years, treating everyone from newborns to older adults. Looking for a change of pace, Gifty took a job that involved making home visits. She was delighted to be able to spend more time getting to know patients and understanding their needs.
“I fed them, I gave them medication,” she explained. “When there was a problem, I would call their doctor to let them know what was going on. I loved it because I had the time to talk to people and educate them. Going from having 15 minutes in the doctor’s office to an hour in people’s homes made me say, ‘Yay!’”
Since joining the Charlotte-area Prospero Health team at the beginning of 2020, Gifty has put her years of experience and famously relaxing demeanor to good use. She begins a typical day by making check-in phone calls to the people in her care, calls that help determine if they need assistance with symptom flare-ups or other issues. Gifty has a knack for understanding the emotional and social factors that contribute to health and wellbeing, especially for older people who live alone and far away from family and friends.
“A lot of older folks don’t want to bother their children, so they’ll end up in bad situations. But they’re willing to talk to a nurse practitioner who will call them and listen to their concerns and problems and what they’re going through. What we’re doing with Prospero is reaching those patients who were isolated and didn’t know what to do, didn’t know who to call for resources or help.”
On a recent morning, Gifty drove 45 minutes from her home base in Charlotte to visit “Rachel,” an older woman who lives in rural Kings Mountain. Rachel was despondent when Gifty arrived. She broke into tears each time she began to speak. Over the course of their conversation, Gifty realized that most of Rachel’s difficulties—low mood, lack of mobility, constipation—were related to her being sedentary throughout the day.
“As a nurse practitioner, I know a lot about medications, so I got on the phone and called Rachel’s primary care doctor to see if they could prescribe something for her mood,” Gifty recalled. “I also gave her some recommendations for over-the-counter medications she could use to help knee pain and a few things she could do to get up and moving.”
When Gifty isn’t improving the lives of the people under her care, she brings light and joy to the world in other ways. She’s particularly fond of cooking, gardening, and sewing. Thanks to her recently discovered green thumb, her yard is filled with tomatoes, habanero peppers, and flowers. According to her family and friends, she makes a “killer” ginger juice (“Every summer, people are looking at me like, ‘Are you going to make some?’”). In all aspects of her life, Gifty gets the most pleasure from serving others:
“When I do something that makes somebody happy, it makes me happy. At the end of the night, I think, ‘Yes, I was able to help another person today.’”