A Career In Nursing: Have You Got A Calling For It?

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Nurses make up a large part of the healthcare workforce in South Africa. Their main purpose is to deliver safe and quality healthcare by putting the needs of patients first.  


Data published by the South African Nursing Council (SANC) in 2021 shows that the country has a nursing staff contingent of around 280,000 nurses.

Over the years nursing has grown tremendously in terms of the areas of healthcare which it covers.

A qualification in nursing offers endless possibilities, from working in the local health sector, hospital, clinics, old age homes, non-governmental organisations, or taking up opportunities abroad. 

There is no typical workday for a nurse. On any given day, nurses can see people at their weakest and most vulnerable, or at their strongest and most resolute.

They witness the results of career-ending and life-ending injuries and illnesses with such regularity that they become par for the course.

Careers Portal spoke to Dr Theresa Bock, Head of Academia at the Western Cape College of Nursing to gain some deeper insight into the profession.

Dr Bock worked as a Registered Nurse at Stikland Hospital for many years before pursing further education in psychiatry and nursing education, she now holds a doctorate in Psychiatric Nursing Science.

“At a young age I knew I was going to be a nurse when I grew up.  I had calling and I specifically selected my school subjects so that it would allow me entry into a nursing career.”

Bock started her nursing career in 1986 when she completed a 4-year diploma in nursing at the Otto Du Plessis Nursing College at Tygerberg Hospital.

“As part of the work integrated learning, in my third year I had to go work in psychiatry and knew this is what I was called to do.”

How does one become a nurse in SA?

In order for any individual to become a qualified nurse in South Africa they are required to study at an accredited institution of higher learning that offers courses and programmes in nursing.

Dr Bock says that before anything else, one should have a love and a calling for helping people before entering the field, as it is essential in being a good nurse.

Don’t think this is going to be a career where you going to earn lots of money — then you're in it for the wrong reasons. You must have a calling and you must really deeply love people and want to make a difference on a micro level because you’re going to be working with one patient at a time.

Once individuals are sure that nursing is their calling, they need to ensure that they have the correct subjects in high school and when they matriculate, explains Dr Bock.

Some key subjects prospective nursing students must have, which includes mathematics, biology, life sciences or physics.

Bock elaborates that another key component in the selection process before students are admitted into a nursing programme is the mandatory interview that takes place.

This interview assesses other aspects and qualities needed in order to become a nurse apart from having the necessary academic requirements.

Some of these qualities and characteristics include the ability to communicate, good problem-solving skills, empathy, critical thinking amongst others.

“You cannot become a nurse if you are blind, you’re unable to work as a nurse if you haven’t got all your limbs. You need two hands to do an ordinary dressing or to operate equipment," explains Dr Bock. 

Once student have met all the academic criteria, they have to decide on what type of nurse they want to become as categories and programmes have different criteria and entry requirements.

Types of Nurses

There are three main types of nurses in South Africa, they include:

  • Auxiliary Nurse: Nurses will this qualification usually perform basic medical procedures and provide general care to patients.

           Study programme: Higher Certificate in Nursing Auxiliary (R.169)

  • Staff Nurse: These nurses provide basic nursing care to patients. However, they are more advanced than ENA’s and can perform more advanced care and procedures.

          Study programme: 3-year Diploma in nursing (R.171)

  • Professional Nurse and Midwife: They perform typical nursing responsibilities for example, administer medication, work out care plans and work in various nursing environments.

            Study programme:  4- year Bachelor of Nursing & Midwifery (R.174)

Registering with Council

Students need to ensure the qualification and the institution they are studying at is accredited by the South African Nursing Council (SANC).

SANC is the body entrusted to set and maintain standards of nursing education and practice in the country.

Once students have completed their nursing studies, they are also required to write and pass the licensing examinations from SANC in order to become a practising nurse.

“Four- six months after students have completed their training, we inform council: these few people met the criteria of the programme, then they apply to write the exam.”

Bock says the licensing exam covers everything, from anatomy to physiology to general nurses and nursing management etc.

Uptake of Nursing programmes

Dr Bock affirmed that student enrolment across various programmes has increased and is on the rise.

We are inundated with applications...For example, with the diploma course we can only have 50 student per campus, yet we’ve received over 1000 applications.

She noted that although the uptake of nursing programmes has increased and new students enter the system every year, there is still a shortage of nurses in the country.

One of the main reasons why there is shortage is a lack of funding, stressed Dr Bock. “Funding is big problem. There are numerous vacant posts, but the sector is severely unfunded.”

Prospective students shouldn’t think that because they are able to take good care of family members or friends that are ill that it is an indication that they are equipped to become nurses, she adds.

Dr Bock says the best advice she would give any high school learners who want to pursue a career in nursing is to go and do some job shadowing on weekends or during school holidays.

This helps when making your career decision, as you get you see first-hand what the job entails and whether you’d be cut out for it.


Suggested Article:

Why Are Nurses Needed in South Africa?

Since South Africa has been hit by the pandemic there has been a need for more healthcare workers, so why does the country need nurses? Keep reading to find out. 


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