It all started off as a dream based on the building blocks of a desire to do more. Telling her fellow nursing peers that she saw herself curating her own schedule one day would be something they laughed about together, but looking back now she is all smiles. Twelve-hour shifts that used to leave her fatigued are a thing of the past, Veronica Shabalala tells us, and now she can work even longer hours because she is finally a wound-care specialist.
This is Veronica’s story.
“I qualified as a professional nurse in 2015 and began work at a hospital. I will be honest in saying I didn’t just wake up one day and say to myself I was going to be a wound-care specialist. It all started off with a desire to do more. After qualifying as a nurse, it just felt like there must be more I could do, this couldn’t be the end.
There was this nurse who used to come to the hospital I was at who did what I do now, so my interest stemmed from there. She told me this specialisation field was only offered in two places in Africa: Cape Town and in the Free State. I then enrolled at the University of the Free State where I began the course.
It was a year-long course and at the time I was just keen on finishing and getting a job. The course, however, was very entrepreneurial-based. They taught us about finances and how to go about setting up your own business.
When I got back and realised I didn’t have money to fund a start-up business of my own in the field, I decided to volunteer at Milpark Hospital [in Parktown, Johannesburg]. I met a sister there and I asked to shadow her, she was a nurse as well. During my tenure one of the doctors referred his patient to me. He told me there was this patient he wanted me to treat, the patient was a private patient so they were paying cash.
That was when I realised this could be a business I venture into. I registered my practice and got a practice number. Doing that could allow me to enter the medical aid side of things, meaning I can charge consultation fees and actually meet with the patients. So I specialise in general wound care – all your ulcers, diabetic footcare, everything that has to do with wound care. I also do something called back therapy for people with wounds that do not heal so now we use back therapy and find alternative ways to heal the wound. I now also started venturing into stoma care for patients who cannot pass stools normally.”
However, as much as she is in the swing of things with her business, Veronica she says it was not the case two years ago.
“The hardest thing for me was that as a nurse I was not a business-minded person. They do not teach you how to do business, what I knew is that I worked and got paid. Another milestone to overcome was finding clients, this is a very niche field and people who work in it are usually very old white people who have since retired from their nursing jobs. You cannot work alone in this business so finding a doctor who will be comfortable to refer their patients to you was also important. Now when you’re in the field it is also a bit tricky. I don’t really want to say you experience racism so I will say it’s more of people having to get used to the new way in which things are done. Also, you are going into a new field which has been dominated by a certain kind of people for years, it is a challenge making your mark there. Another challenge was medical aids. Some do not pay for the kind of services I offer because they view it as just changing a bandage and that one can essentially do that themselves, which is not the case. So I’ve lost money because of medical aids not wanting to pay for the services I offered. All these are things I had to learn on the job because I had no experience.
I remember I use to go to the Discovery offices and ask every question you can imagine one asking because I did not know.
But the pros do outweigh the cons by far. For one, it is very lucrative, there is a lot of money in the field. I don’t know how much money is a lot, but there is a lot of money. I also bought my dream car. My highlight and point of fulfilment however lies in being able to offer someone else a job. I have a lady who does my booking and she is one of two of the people I employ. We are still a small company and there is room to grow.
I remember dreading the 12-hour shifts I used to work at the hospital, but now I find I can do more. You do not get fatigued when it is your own baby you are working on. As it stands, I see about 20 clients a month and I am still okay with that.
For the future I see myself owning the equipment that I will be using in my practice.”