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Two Nigerian-born nurses — friends and roommates — begin work at Acuity hospital in Morgantown

Michael Awotula and Israel Keshinro have come from Nigeria to Morgantown — via Texas — to live out their dreams of helping others. The two friends and roommates are the first international hires at Acuity Specialty Hospital of Morgantown.

While they’re both from Nigeria, they met and became friends while studying nursing and earning their RN degrees at Panola College in Carthage, Texas, about 160 miles east of Dallas.

“I initially never thought I wanted to be a nurse,” Michael said. But he grew up in a home where helping others was the heart. His parents were always involved in their church and helping people who’d been displaced.

His mom ran a wholesale market, and he loved hanging around there. She would give credits to displaced people who needed help starting new lives. He and his mom would see people with malaria and other illnesses too poor to seek hospital help, who would self-medicate instead. She would cook huge quantities of food to give away.

He was in his third year of college in Nigeria when he moved to Texas to study engineering but found his true calling instead, he said. A friend asked him if he’d thought about what he wanted to do with his life.

Israel Keshinro
Israel Keshinro

 “He talked about having fulfillment in your job,” Michael said, and asked if he’d looked into nursing.

Michael said he had a limited conception of nursing — just someone who wears a little cap and helps a doctor. But he did research on how it really is — not just giving injections. The job requires empathy. “They’re heavily involved in the patient’s recovery.” 

And so, “Ever since then, I don’t think I’ve ever looked back. … It just came natural-like,” Michael said.

Down the road, he wants to become a CRNA: A nurse anesthetist.

Israel grew up wanting to be a doctor, he said. He lived with some medical workers in Nigeria and would follow them to work and watch them. In school, he was involved with the Red Cross Society, which takes care of sick and injured people.

In high school, he talked with his dad about his goals, he said. He applied to some medical schools but realized it would take a long time and be too expensive. But his dad had some friends in the U.S. who worked as nurses and saw an opportunity for Israel.

So Israel looked into nursing and decided to take it up as a step toward his doctoring dream. He thinks he’ll work maybe two or three years as a full-time nurse, maybe take some part-time classes.

Coming to Morgantown 

Acuity is a Long Term Acute Care Hospital — LTACH, pronounced L-tack — that serves patients averaging a 25-day length of stay.

“We’re essentially a step-down ICU,” Acuity CEO Frank Weber previously told The Dominion Post. The 25-bed hospital accepts patients who have spent three or more days in a regular hospital intensive care unit or need “prolonged mechanical ventilation” lasting more than 96 hours — four days.

Acuity Healthcare is the majority owner of the hospital, Weber said, with Mon Health System being a minority owner and leasing the space to Acuity.

Weber said Acuity worked with a company called Conexus MedStaff to recruit Michael and Israel, in light of the local and nationwide nursing shortage, and the pandemic that’s put an additional strain on staffing. Conexus helps hospitals and long-term care facilities hire U.S.-educated international nurses and experienced international nurses.

“We’re very fortunate to be able to have these folks on our team,” Weber said. Michael and Israel are new graduates and work under Acuity’s preceptor program to learn on the job. In a few weeks, they’ll be prepared to work more independently.

“I’m learning the ropes,” Michael said.

It’s a transition from schoolwork to really taking care of people. But it’s rewarding to see patients come in and, over the course of weeks, recuperate.

“We’re actually doing something here to really help the patient,” he said.

Acuity is so happy with them, Weber said, the company is looking to hire international nurses at its other four hospitals in the region.

Israel said he was in his third year of college at Panola, when he was scrolling Facebook one day and saw a post about Conexus and job placement. They signed up, and Conexus showed them opportunities in several states. They picked Morgantown.

Morgantown is different from Nigeria and different from Texas, but they like it here. Michael continues to adjust to driving in snow, though.

Asked by Weber to name their favorite area restaurants, they both said they prefer to cook for themselves. They like to make native Nigerian food and appreciate the access to the African-Caribbean market on the Mileground.

As it happened, they got their first jobs in the midst of a pandemic.

It was scary at first; Israel said, seeing the daily news of all the deaths. But as time has gone on, he’s confident we’ve learned more about the virus and how to protect ourselves.

Michael also talked about the fear.

“I’ve had a lot of people call me, ‘Hey are you still going to go to the hospital?’ I was like, “Yeah, we pretty much still have to do our job.’ ” 

He’s learned to just take a deep breath and be ready, and he said: Wear PPE, take the precautions. The preparedness class in nursing school helped — showing them how to take care of their mental well-being, go to the gym, talk to loved ones.

“It’s not just independent; it’s a collective thing,” he said.

Family and friends and those things help us stay calm, he said. “By God’s grace, at the end, we’re going to come out victorious.” 

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