Young people make up about a third of the country’s population, but healthcare services are not designed for their needs. This comes from the latest South African Health Review report, released early this year. Arguably, by employing more young healthcare workers, this systemic issue can be slowly unpacked and addressed.
This Youth Month, two young medical professions speak to Health-e News about their dreams and aspirations in the field, how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected their work and how they want to re-invent the perception of healthcare workers.
Tankiso Charlotte Sebatana is 24–years-old and works as a professional nurse at Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital in Johannesburg.
Sebatana is originally from Bethlehem, Free State and has been a nurse for just under two and a half years. Although she calls the nursing journey “not for the faint of heart”, her desire to positively contribute to people’s health led her to complete her nursing qualification and “enjoy her work despite the difficulties.”
“Personally, I think being a nurse is like the glue that keeps things together, and the integrator of many aspects of one person’s care and wellbeing. My work goes beyond the care of patients. I enjoy my profession, but many things have caused me to question my happiness. But, there’s always that one patient who would simply say ‘Thank you’ and that reminds me that I do enjoy my work despite the difficulties,” she says.
Sebatana is passionate about changing the perception people have of nurses and believes that, through engaging with her peers and health users online, she’s working on destigmatising her profession.
“I feel the need to change society’s perception of a nurse. It’s not the easiest thing to do but I’m part of young, professional nurses who mostly uses social media to show people that not all nurses are old, rude and lack compassion – but the new generation in my career is about doing better, being better, looking better and most importantly being independent rather than being a doctor’s handmaiden.”
She adds: “The community mostly bashes nurses, but there are great and ground-breaking nurses out there.”
‘Vessel of change’
Like Sebatana, Motsamai Maleka, 27-year-old general medical practitioner, feels that certain perceptions about being a doctor need to be shattered.
“To my fellow youth who want to take on this profession – it’s not as glamorous as seems and is actually a lot of hard work, long hours and a lot of missed weddings, funerals and birthday parties – but overall a very rewarding job to have,” says the doctor from Makeneng in Qwaqwa, Free State.
Maleka has been a practising doctor since 2017, and it was through witnessing his father help others that he realised his vocation.
“My father is a doctor so he was my first-hand experience of what it meant to be a vessel of change in the community. Seeing him do it definitely propelled me to become a doctor too,” he says.
Currently, Maleka runs a low-cost surgery in Amelia, a small location outside Sasolburg. He charges R250 for a consultation, including medication costs. “The difference I bring to the community is quality healthcare for the most poverty stricken communities, and I make sure they have access,” he explains.
“It’s priceless to be able to examine someone and find out what’s wrong with them, and also be able to offer the best treatment plan. What’s better is seeing them get better. I love my job and enjoy everything about it from talking to patients, educating them about health issues, contraception and delivering healthy babies to mommies – it’s simply the best.”
Both medical professionals, when asked about how Covid-19 has affected their work and mental health, say the past few months have been stressful due to how little is known about coronavirus.
“Like everyone else, I feared the unknown,” says Sebatana.
“The changes the pandemic brought to the institution as a whole was overwhelming; from the introduction of new protocols to the abrupt rearranging of units/wards. The management constantly pressured us nurses, and without proper communication. To a certain extent I felt like a sacrificial lamb,” she notes.
Health-e News has reported throughout the Covid-19 crisis on nurses’ role and response to the increased pressure on the country’s healthcare system, and Sebatana is not alone in feeling ‘like a sacrificial lamb’. Lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) has been a consistent issue that has led to medical professionals voicing serious concerns with their facilities safety policies.
Sebatana and Maleka have faced similar difficulties when it comes to acquiring protective gear.
“The pandemic is real and has taken more lives recently. We still face challenges with personal protective gear, and just the daunting moments of having to take care of Covid-19 infected patients,” says Maleka.
“But, there are good and bad things I’ve taken from the pandemic,” adds Maleka.
“We’ve seen less patients in accidents, trauma from violence and alcohol abuse has dwindled. Although seeing less cases at the clinic is not economical, at least we can rest assured that lives are being saved.”
Young healthcare workers are being put through their paces during the global health pandemic, but they remain hopeful that their work will make a difference to the country’s youth health users.
“The difference I want to make is a total change of healthcare seeking behaviour, which promotes the involvement of the family unit as a whole in healthcare – rather than focusing on individuals. I want to promote overall positive health without stigmatisation,” Sebatana concludes. – Health-e News