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Home Careers A Day in the Life of a Nurse

A Day in the Life of a Nurse

by Staff Reporter

Gabriella Serrotti: Nurse

Nursing is one of those careers you never really think twice about but it is one of the most crucial jobs in the medical world. Nurses ensure the comfort, well-being and general health of patients during their stay in hospital. They run clinics and just help doctors with their work loads. As many nurses would agree, doctors would go slightly insane without them.

Sadly, South Africa has a shortage of nurses. In some hospitals and clinics it is nearly impossible for them to see each patient’s comfort and well-being. The information available about nursing courses is also rather scarce. We met up with Gabriella Serrotti, a registered nurse through Mediclinic. She is also currently in her first year of studies to become a sister – all at the ripe young age of 21.

The Different Types of Nurses in SA:

Auxiliary Nurse (Stand-alone course): Auxiliary nurses carry out basic nursing procedures and take care of patients on a less specialized level under the supervision of a registered nurse.

Staff Nurse (Stand-alone course): Staff nurses perform duties such as helping doctors with medical procedures, taking care of the sick and injured and helping with health guidance and counselling.

Registered Nurse (Stand-alone course): They have written the SANC (South African Nursing Council) exams and are registered with them.

General Nurse: These nurses have generally studied through an institution like UWC and hold a Bachelors degree. Their training includes all of the nurse qualifications mentioned above in one course. They are registered upon graduation. Extra studying is needed to become a sister.

Sister (Stand-alone course): They hold more of a managerial position. Sister’s are in charge of all of the nurses, are higher in ranking and can make more advanced decisions that nurses can not (with regards to medication, etc.)

What does a typical working day involve? What are your day-to-day activities?

Time of DayActivityComments
04:30Wake upDrag myself to kitchen and have coffee.
04:45Jump in shower and get readyTry and look presentable
06:00Leave for workSecond cup of coffee
06:40Report to the ward I’m assigned to 
06:45Handover timeDuring this time I’m delegated tasks for the day. Preparing, washing patients, observations, etc.
08:00BreakfastFeed patients and start observations. Depending on who’s washing, start washing
09:00Tea timeEach nurse gets a slot for 20 minutes, doctors start doing rounds.
12:00LunchSecond round of observations. Starts getting crazy. Dischargers – there’s always someone getting out of bed who shouldn’t.
  Nutty patients, geriatic, go into grace and safe haven ward. Usually only a staff nurse and two nurses. Feel nuts at the end of the day.
15:00Visiting hoursCatch up with writing work. If it’s not written it’s not done. We need to tell an exact story of what happened.
16:00ObservationsFixing round – bed baths, linen changes, intake and output, turn them to avoid bed sores and discomfort, pressure care.
17:00SupperSpoon feed patients if we have to. Auxiallry nurses feed patients.
  Medications throughout day, feel like a drug addict when you walk out there.
18:45HandoverGo home

How do the Shifts Work?

Nurses work in a 2 week cycle. You have a long week where you work on Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. The next week is a short week and is just the Wednesday and Thursday. You work 14 days in a 28 day cycle. If you’re a staff nurse/sister, you get to work overtime. You work for 12 hours, get paid overtime, and you get paid pretty well. Pay is double on a Saturday night – R1500. Day pay is R 700 and overtime is over and above your salary. This is as set out by SANC (South African Nursing Council).

What do you enjoy most about your job?

You have to have a passion. Your passion is to help people. So if you like helping people then that should be the best part about your job. So that’s what I enjoy most.

What do you enjoy least about your job?

Ungrateful patients and family members. You try your best to make patients comfortable. You give them all the meds that you can, which is the best that you can do, and they still don’t appreciate it.

Where and what did you study?

I studied through Mediclinic. I first did their course “leading to the enrollment as a nurse.” It’s a 2 year course. You become a staff nurse with this qualification, these are the nurses with the white on their shoulders. You need to apply to do the bridging course (this isn’t actually a bridging course to get into nursing if you don’t meet the requirements. They call it a bridging course but it’s actually just a course you do after becoming a staff nurse to become a registered nurse). It’s two years and then you’re a registered nurse. If you study through institutes like UWC, you get your midwifery, psychology and community nursing all at once. You don’t have to study any extra years. If you’re a general nurse, you can work anywhere. Just not in specialised departments like neonatal, obstetrics and gynecology. You can’t work in clinics. You need to study an extra year for this. So there are advantages and disadvantages from studying through Mediclinic.

Is there any training provided by the organisation once you come on board?

I’m studying and working at the moment so I’m still in training. Even the sisters that have been there for 25 years undergo training. We have internal training through Mediclinic so if there’s a new procedure, we need to be competent before we can perform it. We get taught the procedure and then we need to do an ‘exam’ before we are viable to perform it legally.

What type of person would be well suited to this job?

You have to be a peoples person and to be able to communicate well… But you can’t interfere too much. Meaning, you must be able to speak to someone, make them comfortable and heard but not get involved. You’ll just end up hurting yourself. You also need to be a quick thinker.

How long have you been in this position and how did you get there?

I studied for 2 years and took a gap year (working in ER). And then I studied again and this is my fourth year of studying but my first year of sister studies.

Do you have any additional advice for someone interested in pursuing this career?

It’s hard and very strenuous. It’s mentally and physically challenging. If you go straight from school, you go from a 6 hour day to a 12 hour day. They expose you to really rough stuff in the first year. You’ll need to sit next to someone who doesn’t have family and wait with them while they pass on because everyone has the right to not be alone when they die. They don’t warn you about that. So take heed of my warning.

What is the earning potential of this career?

Some of our sisters earn R35000. Positions in management have a pretty good salary outlook. Having said that, just because you’re a nurse in a high position, you should still be willing to cater for the basic needs of a patient (clean bed pans and all of the ‘dirty work’ the juniors generally do.)

What is a typical starting salary in this career field?

As a student I earned R3500 in first year, R7500 in second year and when I was just qualified R11500. There are big jumps in salary. The longer you work, the better the salary. They’ve started something called the new salary run. Students will earn R2000 in first year but they don’t work on Sundays or public holidays, which we had to do.

Any quirky advice for scholars looking to pursue a career in your field?

Make sure your face isn’t itchy when you already have gloves on. That will be the time that your face will itch. If you’re changing someone’s nappy, it is guaranteed that something on your face will itch. Oh, and, wear good shoes. Make sure they’re waterproof, people wee on you.

Studying through Mediclinic

Any quirky advice for scholars looking to pursue a career in your field? 

Maths, Physics and Biology. You should take these if you want to study Nursing. They require that you take Maths and one Science subject. Life science is a must where as physical science is recommended and not compulsory.

How many people do Mediclinic accept per class?

There are 2 courses in a year. There is a January and July intake. January intake for the 2 year enrolled nurse course – 40 students. people drop out. July intake is about 30 students max. There is a limit as to how many they can take. There are 5000 applicants per year. Applicants write a psychometric test. Based on that they call you in for an interview. Thereafter you get accepted into the course.

Is each hospital a teaching hospital?

No, Cape Gate Mediclinic isn’t accredited yet. Neither is Hermanus Mediclinic. But they’ll tell you who’s accredited or not when you request a hospital. They will ask you where you want to go upon acceptance, but there is a chance you’ll go further from home than you want to.  Although they do take marriage and children into account.

What are the requirements for auxiliary nurses, registered nurses, enrolled nurses, etc.?

For auxiliary nursing you just need to pass grade 9/matric. For enrolled nursing, you have to have had the subjects I mentioned earlier. For the bridging course, you need to be a paid member at SANC. You pay a fee each year to be on their roll of registered nurses. If you haven’t paid the council with your yearly fees, they will scrape you off. They’ll ask you how well you did in past courses when you apply for the next level course and then decide from there whether you’re accepted or not.

Mediclinic is implementing a 3 year staff nurse course and a 4 year registered nurse course.  It’s still up and coming so I don’t know that much about it. The last intake for the bridging course is in July 2017. It is the last intake ever. Then the new qualification courses kick in.

Can you go further with auxiliary nursing? For example become a registered nurse etc. 

Yes, definitely. Most organisations and SANC want us to study further. They are always wanting people to better themselves in the nursing world.

How well must you do in nursing exams to study further? (to go from an enrolled nurse to a sister, etc.)

SANC requires a 45% pass rate. But Mediclinic requires 70%. Practicals are always 70%. Theory exams require 50% from Mediclinic.

Who would you speak to to apply at Mediclinic?

Registration and application process

You need to apply in June/July 2017. They’ll send a letter and then do the psychometric test in August if you meet the minimum requirements. You can write a motivational letter if you feel it’ll increase your chances of being accepted. The interviews are in November of each year.

You can also contact a training and development consultant. Ask them if you can job shadow for a week. From there you can ask the development consultant about taking the right high school subjects, etc.

This nurse may be from Atlanta, America, but the basics of medical care and trauma stay the same. Take a look at a day in the life of a trauma nurse: 


EduConnect 2cents

Nursing is a much needed occupation in South Africa. Government and private medical institutions alike are in dire need of more nurses. More nurses would mean more efficient, better run and better care in all medical facilities. But. And this a big but. This isn’t something you should do just for the sake of it. You need to have a passion for people and a desire to care for them. Anything less and you could end up pretty unhappy. Job shadow or chat to a nurse to see if it really is something you could do.

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