From Dreams to Deeds: A Journey of Immigration, Language, and Health Care With Carole W. Kamangu, MPH, RN, CIC


Carole W. Kamangu, MPH, RN, CIC, shares her inspiring journey from the Democratic Republic of Congo to health care leadership in the US today.

In a captivating conversation with Infection Control Today® (ICT®), Carole W. Kamangu, MPH, RN, CIC, the CEO and principal consultant of Dumontel Consulting, delves deep into her odyssey—from her childhood aspirations in the Democratic Republic of Congo to her current role as a health care leader in the United States. Kamangu opens up about the challenges, triumphs, and pivotal moments that have defined her path.

Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kamangu’s childhood dream was to master the English language and explore the vibrant landscapes of the United States. Determined to pursue this dream, she embarked on a journey that would test her resilience, adaptability, and sheer determination. As a seasoned professional in the health care sector, consulting company CEO, and primary consultant, Kamangu reflects on her experiences of immigrating to the US, overcoming cultural barriers, and carving a niche for herself in infection prevention and control

(To honor her country of origin and her family and friends who live there, Kamangu has translated the entire interview into French and given it in English. For the French translation, click here.)

Join us as we unravel the layers of Carole W. Kamangu's extraordinary journey—a narrative of courage, tenacity, and unwavering commitment to making a difference in health care.

ICT: Hello. My name is Tori Whitacre Martonicz, and I'm the senior editor for Infection Control Today. I have Carole Kamangu with me today, who is the CEO and principal consultant of Dumontel Consulting. She also consults with APIC Consulting and is in the Dallas, Texas, metro area. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Carole Kamangu, MPH, RN, CIC: Thank you for inviting me.

ICT: You're here to give us some background on your journey of immigrating to the United States and the challenges that you've faced since then. Would you mind telling us about it?

CK: I was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC; in short, people usually refer to the Congo. My dream was always to be fluent in English. I have no idea why English was the language that I chose [except] when I was in high school, and the United States, as I saw it on TV, seeing Los Angeles, Miami, I always wanted to come to the US to speak English and go to those places.

I finally decided to come here after discussing it with my parents, who wanted to send me to Europe, but I wanted to learn English, so I just wanted to be in the US. When I first got to the US, I had a major culture shock. I have a personality where I'm direct. So that was something I was able to adapt quickly in the US, but just coming from Africa and being in the Western world was a total change. And my brain, of course, at the time I came to the US, I was 19, so a teenager in a new country, not knowing how things work. It was scary; I had a lot of culture shock, I would say, and a language barrier.

Carole as a young girl in the Congo.   (Photo credit to Carole Kamangu.)

Carole as a young girl in the Congo.

(Photo credit to Carole Kamangu.)

When I was in Congo, I did go to a center where you could learn American English because, in high school, we were learning British English. But the teacher was so nice that she was teaching us [by] speaking very slowly. So, by the time I came to the US, I expected people to speak that way, and everyone was so fast that I had no idea what anyone was saying. I would say [for] the first 3 months, going to class to my classes was a big challenge.

For example, I had taken biology in high school, and it was the same material I was learning [in the Congo], but as I was following in my textbook, I had no idea what the teacher was saying for the first 3 months. It took me a year before I was comfortable speaking and making mistakes. I was never comfortable speaking with a large group of people. I would only speak with my friends from other countries because they were all struggling with English. Some of them, of course, came from bilingual countries, so they could speak English. But I would only do 1 on 1 or [maybe] 3-people conversations.

Until one day, a friend of mine said, “Carole, if you don't let yourself make mistakes, you will never speak English.” That's when I took off, and I just started speaking. Now I speak as fast as I speak in French. Sometimes, people tell me, “Can you slow down a little bit?” And I never expected to get to this level where I have to slow down when I speak English. So those were the barriers when I first came here.

ICT: Well, you speak very well.

CK: It took a lot of practice work and overcoming my fear of making mistakes. Now, I don't care if I make a mistake.

ICT: Remember that Americans, we made mistakes too, you know. And so, it is what it is. We're thankful—at least I am—that you took the time to try to learn it. English is not an easy language to learn. Did you learn through an English as a Second Language Program (ESL)?

CK: Yes, when I was in Congo, I was going to this institution that was teaching American English, and when I came to the US as an international student, I was required to take an ESL class for the first semester.

ICT: ESL is amazing. I've helped a lot of ESL students in the past. What inspired you to pursue a career in health care? How did you go about achieving that dream in a new country?

CK: Believe it or not, what inspired me to go into health care started with a fish. And I'll explain why. I was around 10 years old. That was the first time I was learning how to cook fish. I was helping my mum with dinner. That day, she said, “Can you try to cut the fish? I'll tell you how to do it.” I said, “Okay.”

I get a knife, and I cut into it, and I see all these organs. And I'm 10 years old, so I'm fascinated. I said, “Mum, what's this?” She said, “Oh, that's the heart. That's the stomach.”

That was my first experience of surgery, so to speak, and that started something in me. I became so interested in surgery that I was thinking about becoming a surgeon, a general surgeon, and I was watching shows on TV about surgery. The show ER—I don't know if you remember—became my favorite show.

Also, growing up in Congo, it's a country [with] a heavy burden of infectious diseases. I also started at that time developing an interest in public health. In my mind, I started thinking [that] I want to be a surgeon and work in public health. If I don't do surgery, I will become an infectious disease doctor. So that's where my journey started. In Congo, you could never aspire to become a nurse because it's different in Congo than in the US. Nurses are not empowered. And they’re not trained at the same level as here. So there nursing sounds like a very low job. If you say, “I want to become a nurse,” everyone thinks that you don't have any ambition. So, being a doctor was what I wanted to do with my life, so that's how I started my journey with public health.

ICT: That's amazing. I was probably about the same age when I was fileting fish, too. And I had no desire to go into health care. [Laugh]

CK: But the funny thing is that it was the same time, around 11-12 [years old]. I know you have a background in English. So, you may be familiar with this author, this English author called Agatha Christie. She [wrote] mystery novels, so I was a fanatic at that time. I was also reading her novels, and around the age of 11-12, I started writing my own novels. It was a period of my life where I was thinking, “Okay, I want to become a doctor just like Agatha Christie [was] a pharmacist and a novelist. I want to become a doctor and write novels. So, I had 2 paths in my head at that time.

ICT: And now you're writing for ICT.

CK: I am. I never imagined it. I was writing fiction and would love to publish a fiction novel. ICT is a great place to put my contributions. So, I enjoy it.

ICT: What obstacles or cultural differences did you have when you were trying to establish yourself here in the US? Because it's—you just said—it’s so different? It had to be difficult.

CK: [Cultural differences are] different in every part of the US; of course, as we know, people in New York behave differently than in Texas. For example, when I started my journey in the US,the community that I was embedded in as a college student was very nice but not kind.

It was hard at first because if, for example, I would make mistakes in my conversations in English, people would not correct me. And then that would just go on and say the same wrong words for a while until someone kind enough and direct like me would say, “Carole, we don't say that in the US.” So, it was harder for me because I had come from a culture that was behaving differently; I didn't know who to trust at first because I felt like people were being 2-faced until I moved to a different state where I experienced a different culture. I think it's different from state to state. But those were my first challenges where I was at the time.

ICT: People think that they're being kind by not saying anything, but it’s not.

CK: It is a disservice to you.

ICT: When I was an ESL partner, my job was to correct the person and say, “We say it this way." It got to be that I do to everybody now. [Laugh] But it's good because then they know what they're doing wrong. If [someone is] going to learn a language, they want to learn it correctly.

ICT: What were the initial struggles that you faced when you started your health care company? And how did you overcomethem?

CK: As they always say, the first 2 to 5 years are always the hardest. So, I'm going through growing pains and rewards. I would say the biggest challenge is navigating this mindset of being a business owner, a CEO and coming from a field where I was the executor. And being trained as a nurse, we tend to take ownership of everything, so I'm learning to delegate. I have been for my entire life, in so many aspects of life, a jack of all trades, and being a mom, it's just [a] nature that you acquire.

So I've learned things like graphic design by using Canva, for example. So now I'm learning as a business owner; I had finally, after 9 months in the business, had to learn to hire an assistant to free myself up to be an effective business owner. So now I have this assistant who's amazing, and she knows all those skills, [and] she can adapt easily. I don't have to do my social media anymore. She's running with it. As you've seen, our pages [are] booming, and she's doing all the work; all I'm doing is approving the content.

[I am] letting go of the sense [that] I have to do everything because I know better. It’s also a process of learning humility. Because I during the pandemic, because I'm crazy, I started an MBA course because I knew I wanted to start my company, and I was 9 months pregnant. I haven't finished the course, as you can imagine. But I took some courses that were already able to help me establish strategic thinking as a business owner. I was able, at least, to do that, and also refine my project management skills.



But as I'm continuing to grow the company, I've learned from different coaches that you can only be as successful as yourself. It's always my personal mission in my personal and professional life to surround myself with people who know better than me, people who have different skills that can complement me. And that's the vision I have for Dumontel, which is working with like-minded professionals who know better than me and who excel at other areas of IPC [infection prevention and control] that I don't excel in. Also, as a business owner, I take advantage of all the free tools and resources that I have. I have 3 mentors [from] a local organization. Because another challenge [I had when] I started, I felt isolated coming from a team to bounce ideas off to just being myself. I have mentors in public health. Some of them are my previous professors from graduate school, and I have mentors in IPC. And I'm so thankful for this group of people. My achievements are not about me; it's about the collaborative nature of this work that I'm running with. I am determined, too.

Some of the growing pains are sometimes I have to have some sleepless nights, and I'm a mom of 7- and 3-year-old boys. It's hard sometimes, but sometimes I have to work when they sleep because I want to be prepared for the next week or the next month. I have to strategize on how to market my business locally, nationally, and internationally. So, all those challenges, because they come with a reward, I do love what I do. I know I'm still at the beginning, but I'm seeing a light on the horizon.

ICT: Can you describe some key moments or turning points in your journey from the Congo to owning your own business that can lead to your company's success as well as your own personal success?

CK: The turning point was when I worked for my previous company in Seattle; I realized how much of a passion I have for problem-solving. And through the pandemic, I realized how much infection control expertise is needed around the world. And how limited sometimes we are by just our setting, and not to a fault of the system, but because that's the setting where you're working. So your mindset is revolving around that setting. And I'm also the type of person who likes a challenge. So I wanted to expand my horizon as an IP. My mind is geared towards systems thinking. I've been told that I'm good at coaching and great at program and project management. A turning point that was also a confidence booster was one of the projects that I led, which was collaborative throughout the system. I was able to revamp the hand hygiene program and come up with a project to reduce HAIs [health care-associated infections] as we were having HAIs [health care-associated infections] increasing fast within 1 month. And those rates were looking very unusual.

I discussed this with my team, and I said, “I want to have this project where we can work with the entire company and take a multifaceted approach. So that we can reduce those rates. And the project, we were able to reduce HAI rates by 33% in 3 months; it was 100 days. And when I did the calculation, we saved over $570,000 within 3 months. And that project was included in the review to provide magnet status for the health care facility. When our team received applause for that project, that also was a confidence booster for me because, as IPs, we tend sometimes to second guess our skills. That was a time when I thought, “Wow, I'm actually able to work and make people come together and help a program improve.” That was one of the many projects I led there when I left Washington State; I said I wanted to create this company so I could do that elsewhere. I don't want to just do this for this one organization if I can help others.

ICT: Congratulations on that.

CK: Thank you! It was teamwork. And I was leading the project, but I'm so glad that the entire team, the entire organization, was behind me.

ICT: What principles do you do you live by and refuse to give up on?

CK: I refuse to give up on my self-motivation and determination. I'm naturally very driven. Some tend to call it overachiever. I tend to always aim high. Always aim for improvement for the best. And with that, for most of us, it comes also with perfectionism, which is something I'm working on. It's something that I'm learning, as I mentioned earlier, getting in this [company ownership] that is where I'm letting go of the perfectionism. Determination, self-motivation, and integrity are principles that I go by.

This is not something that people use in their business, but I use my religion as part of my life, part of my identity. Even with starting this company, I started with a prayer for God to help me to make this business successful. And before I make any major business decision, I talk to God first. God is my first business partner before I talk to my mentors and advisors. And it's because of my religion that I live by integrity. I want to keep that integrity so that people can trust me [and] the company, can trust the people that I work with. They can receive the help and the care that they need.

ICT: How do you see your company's role in improving health care in the US? And how does your company impact the community that you serve?

Kamangu at graduation.  (Photo credit: Carole Kamangu)

Kamangu at graduation.

(Photo credit: Carole Kamangu)

CK: I see this company as part of a big puzzle. We all have several consulting companies where we all specialize in different aspects of infection control. What this company is trying to do is be proactive, using QI (quality improvement) as an approach to help program leaders look at where they have some gaps and implement evidence-based practice. And for me, I see it as my role in the field. [I’m] not competing with what we're in business, we will call competitors, not competing with my competitors, but working alongside them to make quality health care quality, prominent in the US.

ICT: Because essentially, we all have the same goal, and that is to prevent infection and keep ourselves and our patients healthy.

ICT: What advice do you have for other immigrants aspiring to pursue careers or start businesses in the health care sector in the US?

CK: We all hear this quote all the time from prominent industry leaders. Now I start using this quote “Do it afraid.” When we second guess ourselves, we never take any steps. So, whether you're afraid or not, do your research to know what's the legal way to set up a business in your state, and then go for it, whether you have a client to help talk to your network. Your network may know people who need your help, and you'll be able to provide the services that your business is created for. I'll say, “Don’t be afraid." And many people, I would say more specifically from Africa. When we think about health care, we always think about being a doctor or being an epidemiologist. But infection prevention is an area in which you can also apply your epidemiology and public health skills, and that's contributing to my success as well in transitioning easily into infection control because of my public health [and] epidemiology background. Use your transferable skills, we have so many transferable skills that we underutilize. The big takeaway is to do it afraid. Use your network to leverage all the resources you have. And, of course, never forget to say thank you. None of us can be successful if we don't have help.

ICT: In what ways do you give back to the immigrant community, specifically the Congolese? Or how do you support others in overcoming similar challenges and pursuin their dreams in health care?

CK: One of the values I've personally been one of the causes I believe in, and Dumontel believes in, is educational equality. One of the ways that I give back [is that] I am one of the cofounders of a nonprofit called Congo4Tomorrow. We give back to low-income schools in DRC. At this moment, of course, our operations are mainly in DRC, even though we are getting interest from other countries, but that's the way that I give back with tools for those children in low-income schools who don't get the privilege I've had to study and come to the US. So that's one thing that I do. I'm a board member of Congo4Tomorrow. Still, it's been 7 years. I give back through board membership, using my skills, or even using my public health skills in Congo4Tomorrow. Through COVID-19, I've used them for this nonprofit. And with anyone from the Congolese community around me here in the US, I tell them what I do, and I tell them how I started the business. I tell them what resources I use. I tell them to sign up for LinkedIn if they don't have a LinkedIn account. I tell them to network; whether they're introverted or not, you need people in their life; as they always say, people need people.

ICT: Do you have anything else you'd like to add?

CK: As an infection preventionist, I would say to other infection preventionists that we were doing a great job. It's true. The pandemic has made us all feel burned out. Some of us felt like we wanted to change fields. But my advice for all of us is not to give up. And I include myself. Use your strengths and use your skills to make an impact wherever we are. Continue to do the work that you do best, continue to research, leverage your network, leverage your tools, and I think we’ll make an impact; we are making an impact and will always be here. So don't give up.

ICT: Thank you so much for joining me today.

CK: Thank you for having me.

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