Renewing South Africa’s nursing profession

President Jacob Zuma opened the National
Nursing Summit taking place at the
Sandton Convention Centre from 5 to 7
April by encouraging nurses to work
towards making the profession a noble
one again.
(Image: Nosimilo Ramela)

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Nosimilo Ramela

President Jacob Zuma opened the 2011 National Nursing Summit taking place at the Sandton Convention Centre from 5 to 7 April, by calling on nurses to go back to the basic values of nursing – caring and consideration for patients and respect for the profession.

Speaking at the start of the summit, Zuma said the nursing profession needed to go back to being a noble profession.

For people who are ill or hospitalized, the nurse is the first person they meet. They are the patient’s key source of information, comfort, assurance and the delivery of treatment, making them a critical part of the South African health system.

Over the years, South Africans have complained that nurses have become rude and intolerant towards patients. Zuma cautioned nurses that they odd to be professional at all times and treat patients with respect. “At times public servants think they are doing the public a favour, but they are not, they are providing services that citizens are entitled to.”

He said the summit was a critical event as there was a need to re-define the responsibility of nurses in the new society. “It is a moment of discarding practices that do not work and embracing new methods and ways of doing things that will define the role of a nurse in a free and democratic South Africa.”

The theme of the summit is “reconstruction and revitalising the nursing profession for a long and healthy life for all South Africans”. The event is attended by managers, students, and representatives of the nursing and midwifery professions from all provinces in the country.

Topics that the healthcare workers will be dealing with during the summit include nursing education and training; leadership, governance, policy and legislation; ethical and value systems of nursing; role of the nurse in the improvement of health outcomes; and regulatory framework in nursing education and training.

Zuma emphasised the importance of addressing these issues during the summit. He said the government had national priorities they had committed to and the health sector particularly the nurses were a pivotal part of fulfilling these commitments.

He said the government wanted to reduce child and maternal deaths, increase infant mortality rate, combat HIV/Aids and tuberculosis, increase the life expectancy, and strengthen the effectiveness of the health system. “Nurses are central to the achievement of these goals, given the role they play in the health system. You are the backbone of our hospitals and the clinics and the engine of our health care system.”

Solutions by nurses themselves

In his address minister of health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi asked delegates to use the opportunity presented by the summit to look at the challenges and problems facing the profession and come up with solutions.  

“We believe in solutions by nurses themselves,” he said. “No judge can define what a nurse is, what they should do, and what they need. You must do it here yourselves. We are here to correct that which we have done wrong. We must be honest and fix what we have done wrong.”

Motsoaledi said a lot had gone wrong in the country’s health system and nursing profession, which needed to change. “You and me are going to fight this. We are here to resolve the many issues the nursing sector have and need dealing with and defining, that is why we had this summit.”  

The minister to reminded the health workers of their position in society. “You are not nurses for your own sake but because the country needs health services.” He encouraged nurses to find the passion for their profession again, and remember why they joined the health sector.

“It takes a special kind of person with a certain kind of heart to be a nurse. I know there are challenges and at times, you find it hard to even smile, but when a person presents themselves at a clinic or hospital dont treat them as a biological entity. They are someone’s mother, brother, sister, mentor or breadwinner – treat them with compassion.”