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Careers In Modern Nursing: The Innovative Face Of Medicine

  • 7 min read

Today, nursing is a rapidly evolving field, driven by empowered professionals and high-tech medical innovations. It is a career that literally changes lives, writes Merle Victor, Chief Nurse Officer at Life Healthcare

Traditionally, anyone pitching the value of a career in nursing would start with the principle that “it’s a noble profession” predominantly pursued by women, which provides job satisfaction and fulfilment for improving people’s lives. All of that remains true, but today, nursing is also a hi-tech profession offering opportunities for men and women in multiple sectors, space to specialise in a specific clinical field, and the chance to build a career in nursing leadership and management. 

Nursing is indeed a noble vocation. It offers true job satisfaction at a time when this is hard to come by. It also offers job security – qualified nurses are often guaranteed to find work, as well as find opportunities to earn extra income – specifically here at home or even abroad.  Additionally, the industry is seeing an increasing number of men making their way into the profession. The South African Nursing Council’s statistics show that 29 097 full-time male nurses were registered in 2022 compared to 27 584 in 2017 – a rise of 5,5%.

Nursing fulfils a primary need: caring for each other, whether working for a hospital, clinic, mental health or physical rehabilitation centre, not-for-profit (NPO) organisation or even an academic institution. However, modern nursing has evolved so radically, that it now transcends the healthcare sector. A nursing qualification can open doors to a career in the pharmaceutical sector, education technology, the financial sector, health informatics, community care and occupational therapy, to name a few adjacent industries. 

For those who value flexibility, nursing is definitely a profession to consider, with nurses often having great career development opportunities, negotiable hours, a competitive salary, and the choice of whether to be a temporary or a permanent employee. 

What also sets this career apart on a basic level, is that it is an exciting job. A nurse will experience more excitement in a day than most office workers see in a lifetime. When I think back to my years as a bedside nurse, I recall joy, sadness, intensity, as well as close, supportive friendships.

Forging lifelong relationships is inevitable, as nurses care for patients in multidisciplinary teams. You meet people, you share ideas, and you work for your patients. As colleagues, we tend to keep each other going in high-pressure situations.

Currently, we are also a key component of the national health development process. Where communities face a shortage of nurses, it has hugely detrimental effects on health outcomes. If more people choose to enter the nursing profession, we may improve access to healthcare at the point of contact of where it is needed. Nursing resources can determine how many community clinics are built, and the range of healthcare services offered, which can boost healthcare strategies. 

If South Africa wants to achieve universal health care – as envisaged with the National Health Insurance (NHI) system – we will need adequate nursing resources. Nurses are the backbone of any healthcare system. 

It would make a lot of sense to consider addressing South Africa’s youth unemployment challenges by training and deploying nurses in their thousands. Creating more nursing jobs would not only improve the health of our communities, it would improve the dignity of our people. 

There is enormous room to expand our country’s complement of nurses. In an OECD comparison of nursing numbers, South Africa ranked last out of 28 countries, with 1 nurse per 1 000 patients, compared to Switzerland with 18,4, Portugal with 7,8 and India with 1,6. 

Following recent regulatory changes, training for nursing supports three professional designation categories: registered auxiliary nurses, registered general nurses, and registered professional nurses and midwives. The predominant route for the registered professional nurse and midwife is a bachelor’s degree in nursing from a South African university. Students need a grade 12 national senior certificate, generally with maths/maths literacy and life sciences, to be eligible to apply for nursing studying.  

Nursing offers a career pathway for further training and specialisation after initial nursing qualifications. Midwifery, critical-care nursing, theatre nursing, community nursing, oncology nursing and occupational-health nursing are but a few possible career routes. Nurses can also become nursing educators at a hospital, university or private training facilities. All nurses need strong leadership qualities to ensure the best outcomes for their patients, but there are also extensive career-development opportunities into nurse-leadership and management roles. 

There are also many ways to advance one’s nursing career within the health sector. Within the hospital industry, we have seen staff who began their careers as porters, care workers and ward clerks, who seized opportunities for studying through private higher education institutions such as Life Healthcare’s nursing college, and who are now specialist nurses with many entering nurse manager and nurse leadership positions.

Nursing is also always on the business end of medical progress. Significant advances now allow a larger number of serious diseases to be successfully treated. This offers great hope for patients, but also empowers nurses who are part of multidisciplinary clinical teams to make more of a difference in more people’s lives. 

Digital technological innovation has also removed many of the routine admin tasks from nursing, giving nurses more time at the bedside. Electronic devices are now used to monitor and record patient vital signs, and to check on their progress. This supports better-informed, more effective treatment plans and means nurses are more tech savvy than ever before.  Technology has also improved continuing education in nursing. Online, self-paced learning modules are interactive and available whenever the nurse as the opportunity to study. 

Simulation rooms and digital education systems support innovative teaching that integrates theory and practice and improves cognitive thinking. An example of this is the advanced electronic-learning programme at Life Healthcare’s learning centre’s that is conducive to visual and interactive study, employing 3D human-anatomy and physiology software for teaching, learning and presenting. 

New technology can simulate specific patient behaviours or illnesses in a controlled, non-threatening environment, which provides a massive boost to healthcare training. Students get much-needed exposure to realistic scenarios, where they can practise life-saving skills without adverse consequences. Scenarios include basic and advanced nursing, wound care, labour, delivery and midwifery. 

Technology and innovation should be a priority in driving clinical competency, constantly adapting to keep up with the ever-changing healthcare system, connecting with potential nursing students and nursing professionals by increasing access to education resources and online learning platforms. 

With these training advances, a plethora of new professions are emerging, offering new ways to treat patients and improve their lives. Clinical technologists and dialysis technicians, for instance, have a massive impact on patients’ lives. Nurses can also improve their own abilities and marketability by acquiring these skills. 

Theatre nurses now work with robotics, which are used to assist and guide surgeons during precision operations in areas such as urology and neurology. Opportunities for nursing in the technology space are constantly growing, as new innovations are developed. 

Nursing is a field making extensive use of technology, whilst still retaining its deeply human principles of care and empathy. I encourage any young person with this combination of progressive thinking and human values to consider a career in the field.