By Mia Slabbert
They take up the role of mother and caretaker. They are the helpers in the hospital who rubs your back and assist you in times when you cannot necessarily take care of yourself. Nurses are the heartbeat of the hospital hallways. It is also the occupation that Magda de Ruyter have been choosing for the past 28 years.
Magda has been working as a nurse in South Africa since 1991. She works in the theatre and always explains her role with a bit of humour: “I am that person who gives the scalpel to the doctor when he says ‘scalpel’.”
She believes that although her profession is already old, there are still many challenges that are experienced every day in hospitals and specifically amongst nurses. “Some things have been a problem for years, and others come with time. The hours that personnel are working will remain a problem forever. In addition, one can include personnel shortages because these two go hand in hand to some extent,” said Magda.
According to her, remuneration is also a problem. “I know it is a problem because you cannot always reward people for the extra mile, but it is something that is neglected and as a result young people aren’t keen on nursing. The fact that some doctors don’t have any respect for personnel is also another major challenge in this occupation. Personnel are still verbally abused at times.”
Early in her life, the mother of two already knew what she wanted to do and where she wanted to work, and she says she is privileged to get up every day and to know that her patients are waiting for her. “Today, after all the years, I am still here because I am really passionate about my work and patients. I will choose nursing over and over again as my profession,” said Magda with a warm smile.
It is this warm smile that greets patients in the theatre, reassures them and ensures that they are comfortable before undergoing surgery. In the theatre she is the surgeon’s proverbial right hand. According to Magda nursing is very important, because besides providing care for operations, they are also patient’s advocates who act for them when they can’t really care for themselves or speak for themselves. “We as nurses have such a big responsibility towards our patients and our employee. A person simply cannot do this job without having an immense passion for people.”
As a nurse, you need to make peace early on in your career that there is no set lunchtime at work. “Sometimes it is quite humorous, but one eats in between operations. Usually you eat standing while handing over the patient to the recovery room. One becomes quite creative and quickly learn which food will last you longer. Sometimes it is very rough, but we as nurses become very clever and learn quickly to balance our days within the hospital walls. Nursing becomes a lifestyle you get used to with time.”
Another major challenge in the profession is the consequences of dissatisfied patients. “The fact that people are going to the court for every single misstep is a big challenge for the whole medical profession. If you make one mistake you are sued; that is something that has blown over from overseas and people take easy chances, but this means that staff has to walk on egg shells, and due to this there is a lot of paperwork that must always be in place. They say if it is written, it is done, but is not always necessarily the matter,” said Magda.
Another worry in the profession is nursing agencies, Magda says. “it is easy for personnel to work at one hospital during the day and another at night. This poses a major risk and the only dense a hospital has is to appoint its own permanent personnel. Agency personnel also has no loyalty towards the hospital, the patient or the hospital’s stock.”
Magda believes it will be a big step forward for the profession if the Department of Health specifically sends young, female students for their practical to hospitals close to their support network and not necessarily any hospital in the country.
“I think better salaries and better workhours will also attract young people. I think there are definitely young people out there who has a passion for the profession and who would like to do it. Maybe proper training like in the past will also help. Currently, private institutions are doing all the training and no longer the government on such a big scale,” said Magda.
According to Magda there is a trend among young nurses today that their profession is “just another job” and as a result they no longer have the necessary respect towards senior staff.
“Training is definitely not the same as in the past. Times have changed. Young nurses are protected and may only do certain things. We had to jump in and do everything. Back in the day, you saw how your senior does it and then you had to do it yourself, but today the young nurses stand around as if they don’t have much interest. It is just another job for them, and that attitude has to change.”