‘The pandemic empowered me’ – a local nurse shares her story

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Nurse Nomvo Makata from Bisho Hospital
Nurse Nomvo Makata from Bisho Hospital

“The Covid-19 pandemic empowered me, and it gave me a sense of responsibility. It opened my eyes and made me realise that nurses make an immense contribution to society. My love for the profession could only grow.”

A fitting tribute from Nomvo Makata, a nurse at Bisho Hospital in Eastern Cape, who has been fighting on the frontline with her fellow healthcare workers for the last year.

She beams with pride as she looks back at the most challenging year of her life, which also marked her first year of practice. If it's confirmed one thing, it's that nurses are and have always been the pillars of society.

Even though they are undervalued and underpaid, nurses have proven how essential they really are, Nomvo says. To celebrate the profession on the 56th anniversary of International Nurses Day, she share her journey with Drum.

Read more | 'Nursing is not a profession, it's my calling' - nurses honoured on International Nursing Day

Nursing sister Nomvo (31) says she's often been told to look for another profession because she is still young but she's always wanted to be a nurse – it is her calling.

“My father was a traditional healer and he loved healing people. I did not have that gift but when we were involved in a car accident and my sister was badly injured, I had to nurse her back to health after she was discharged from hospital. My everyday involved cleaning her wound, and that’s when I realised I wanted to do this forever,” she tells us.

Working in the Covid-19 ward, she got infected by the virus but she bounced back and went straight back to her job.

“I stayed at the nurse’s home for a long time because I did not want to go home and put my family at risk. It was scary for me but I put the safety of my family first,” she says.

“People’s lives depend on me. We've lost a lot of people but that encouraged me to go above and beyond for the patients.”

Due to the regulations, patients were isolated and this made Nomvo into more than just a nurse.

“They could not have visitors and for me that meant I needed to be a motivator, a counsellor, and encourage them and provide emotional support,” she says. “As nurses, we are there during births and during their last moments.”

Read more | The Covid-19 pandemic put such a strain on nurses on frontlines that many are considering leaving

Along with the highs, there are lows and Nomvo says nursing is the most devalued profession.

“Our field is multidisciplinary and nurses are at the bottom. We are not recognised enough for the work we do and not paid enough. Our contribution to the health sector is undervalued, but we are always hands on. When a patient arrives, nurses are the first ones on call to stabilise a patient. We are the first responders.”

For Nomvo, it’s not about the money – it's all about the patients who depend on her.

“Your worth can never be measured by money and as a nurse you go to bed knowing you saved a life. But we live in a society where a person’s value is attributed to the money they earn.”

The biggest obstacle, she says, is government. 

“In departments, especially in the Eastern Cape, our MEC’s have no idea of our daily struggles and the decisions taken do not benefit the nurses or patients.”

As a result, nurses have a bad reputation. But they are demotivated because of their poor working conditions and a lack of resources, she says.

“At school you are taught to advocate for the patient but when you do that, government silences you,“ she says.

What you need to know to become a nurse

Education and training

Nursing is a science and an art – it requires both theory and practical work in the different settings like clinics, community health centres, hospitals and hospices.

In South Africa, the profession is regulated by the SA Nursing Council (SANC) – you have to be registered with SANC to practise nursing.

You must be admitted to a nursing education institution, public or private, that is accredited by SANC and the programmes must be accredited by SANC and the Council on Higher Education.

It’s an advantage to have life sciences and/or biology, English, maths lit or maths and computer skills. There are three entry level undergraduate programmes to nursing:

A higher certificate in nursing – one year, on completion you qualify as an auxiliary nurse

A diploma in nursing – three years to qualify as a general nurse.

Bachelor of nursing – four years to qualify as a professional nurse and midwife.

Can also do postgraduate diplomas in specialised areas, like childcare or critical care.

Additional skills

Communication, interpersonal skills, empathy, patience, honesty, sympathy and compassion. The value of a nurse is their ability to show respect for human life and dignity, social justice and integrity and a total commitment to patients and other healthcare users.

Duties and responsibilities

Preventive, promotive, curative and rehabilitative health throughout a lifespan, from birth to death. You will be dealing with conditions and cases including trauma, maternity, paediatrics, gynaecology, surgical and many other medical conditions.

Job outlook

Excellent. Nurses will always be needed and there is a shortage of nurses in this country. This is also the case around the world.

Work schedule

Expect to work in shifts, long hours, including night duty.

Work environment

Working closely with other professions like doctors and physios, as well as patients.

Salary

The average salary for a registered nurse in South Africa is R238,101.

Extra sources: sanc.co.za, payscale.com

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