“Attitude is like a flat tyre – if you don’t change it, you won’t be able to go anywhere.” This quote defines Vyjayanthimala van Heerden and her approach to her 26-year career as a nurse.
World Nurses Day today, Thursday May 12, recognises nurses and the role they play in the well-being of the community.
They are a force for change in improving healthcare systems, which is the theme for the 2016 event. Recognised throughout the world, the day is also the birthday of Florence Nightingale, regarded as the founder of modern nursing.
It takes a certain kind of person to be a nurse.
They often work 12 hour shifts and have to be on duty from 7am until 7pm. Ms Van Heerden says she decided to become one because of a calling. “Ever since I can imagine, I have had a great compassion to care for the sick, this encouraged me to seek a career in nursing.”
Based at Somerset Hospital in Granger Bay since 1990, she rises at 4am daily to be at work on time. “I am one of the lucky few who has a vehicle. Many nurses will have to get up earlier and walk to public transport.”
Her day starts with the handing over of the shifts. “During this time, the day-shift staff is updated about the patients’ medical status. I plan, manage and supervise the daily activity list for staff under my supervision; this involves allocating individual duties to staff.”
Since 2003, she has been involved with teaching nurses. She makes herself available and visible in the hospital, to ensure the well-being of patients and her fellow nurses alike.
“As a clinical nurse educator, I evaluate, suggest, create and incorporate both non-clinical and clinical programmes that improve medical practices for patients’ well-being. I act as a source of information for those around me and assess and set goals for educational programmes, updating these programmes when required.”
As a nurse, Ms Van Heerden, is also involved as the chairperson of the C2AIR2 Club (Caring, Competence, Accountability, Integrity, Respect and Responsiveness). The initiative, which started two years ago, promotes the well-being of nurses in the healthcare system, and 82 facilities all over the Western Cape are involved.
“We need commitment from nurses to get up and be here every morning. We need people with passion, who care about the patients. It is important to stay humble and not look down on patients. You have to understand that you are going into their private space and must make them feel comfortable.”
Ms Van Heerden says the profession has become more specialised over the years. “Today, nurses are more educated and certified in their nursing specialties. Over the years, we have seen the shift from a once female-dominated profession, now incorporating males without stigma.
“Education and clinical experience have ensured that nurses are on top of their game from the moment they graduate from nursing school, until they retire from nursing. The workplace today is as much a part of on-going education in the respective fields for nurses as colleges and other educational institutions are.”
She says it’s important, for medical professionals to educate the public and be a source of primary healthcare information.
The most important thing about the job, she says, is connecting with the patients and making them feel at ease. “That is what I want to see from our future generation of nurses. We need to be able to listen (to the patients) and at the same time explain.”
Danver Roman, provincial secretary of the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (DENOSA), says it is important to recognise the role nurses play in the healthcare system, but “the government also needs to come to the party.” The organisation offers support to nurses, looking out for their safety and advocating for those still working with outdated equipment or battling high nurse-patient ratios.
Mr Roman says South African nurses are in demand in other countries because they have experience in dealing with complex diseases.
Provincial Department of Health spokeswoman Bianca Carls said nurses formed the largest category of clinical staff in the health service and were an integral part of the health team “forming the backbone of providing good quality care”.