The Nursing World Misconceptions – By Jennifer Mdluli

By: Jennifer ‘JennyLove’ Mdluli

“As a nurse, we have the opportunity to heal the mind, soul, heart, and body of our patients. They may forget your name but they will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou.

The appreciation of nurses should be a daily not only on International Nurses Day on the 12th of May, the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth, therefore the purpose of the celebration is to raise awareness of the important role and contribution nurses play in society, the general public nurse’s commitment to providing the best possible healthcare.

In celebration of International Nurses Day, this article will focus on the professionalization of health workers to dispel the misconceptions and stigma most people have about nurses. Without nurses, it would be impossible for patients to receive the quality care they expect in most hospitals and clinics, yet many believe and say that nurses are just an obstacle on the front line, making their lives more miserable than before, and they would rather be addressed by a doctor rather than a nurse, but underestimating that nurses are the key to quality medical care.

Do nurses really want to be doctors?

The humungous misconception that nurses really want to be doctors has been lingering in the minds of many people who end up believing the stigma their attitudes portray and I’ve always been baffled why they are considered the founders of modern nursing practice Florence Nightingale, from an early age, wanted to be a nurse. Florence Nightingale was active in philanthropy, serving the sick and poor in the villages surrounding her family estate. By the time she was 16, it was clear to her that nursing was her calling. She believes this is her divine purpose. If nursing had a divine purpose, why would she want to be a doctor? She even established a nursing school in 1986. Nightingale popularized the concept of nurses as a professional, educated workforce caring for the sick.

Nurses are not people who wanted to be doctors but couldn’t be. Nurses and doctors have different roles and responsibilities in healthcare. Nurses are trained to provide direct care to patients, while physicians diagnose and treat illness and injury. Nurses and doctors both play important roles in the healthcare system and both require extensive education and training. However, the transition from nurse to medicine and becoming a doctor is very possible, but not a path every nurse wants to take, but most likely the route depends on one’s career aspirations. So the next time you have a nurse caring for you, remember that not all nurses are “failed doctors” and choose to take care of their patients’ lives when they are most vulnerable in order to maximize their rapid chances of recovering normal selves.

Nursing is a female battlefield

We could even attribute this misconception to South African apartheid, as women in South Africa were legally considered permanent minors with no independent authority to make broad career choices. Apartheid laws and social norms accorded black women a lower status, resulting in what is now called the “triple oppression” of race, class, and gender. Nursing became a women’s job because it had more to do with caring for the sick, which was stigmatized as something women were born to do because they were the caregivers of the family, not men.

Men are ruled out as lacking the empathy needed to be a Nurse. Our society instils in us a lot of misconceptions about men, sayings like “men don’t cry”, “boys are boys” etc. While these thoughts may seem innocuous on the surface, they would lead us to believe that men lack the empathy needed to properly care for others. In some workplaces, men may even face consequences for violating gender norms. Yet in 1974, Sybrand de Beer bravely broke the stigma and became South Africa’s first male matron. He started working at Johannesburg General Hospital at the age of 17 in the 1950s, when male nurses were dismissed because of the widespread perception that nursing was a predominantly female profession. Despite the challenges he had to face, Sybrand changed boundaries and paved the way for young people, especially men looking to pursue careers in nursing.

As it is often said, actions speak louder than words. When it is evident that you care for and treat all patients with dignity and respect, assumptions about your competence evaporate. This inaccurate stigma prevents talented and compassionate people from entering the field of nursing, from using their skills and talents to truly help people.

Most nurses hate their jobs

South Africa has flagged a shortage of nurses and professionals in the country, saying it has resulted in almost double the workload for nurses working in the public health sector. There were not enough nursing staff in the country, this started long before the pandemic, and we were still struggling post Covid-19 pandemic. But being a nurse is a daunting task. You have to take care of people from all walks of life every day. Being bright and lively is not always possible, but a caring attitude can go a long way.

Many nurses work in harsh environments but must endure the conditions in order to care for patients. Nursing became popular in the black community because people had limited information about other career opportunities. But make no mistake, if you have a healthcare diploma or degree today, you stand a better chance of finding a job. This is especially true in a country facing an unemployment crisis. No one likes being unemployed or going to bed hungry.

This has some graduates rethinking their dream careers, turning to studying nursing purely for survival rather than passion. It has been said that if people lack enthusiasm for their profession, they may end up resenting their job – which can lead to a bad attitude. But are some nurses who hate their jobs and are the rudest professionals in South Africa? It is wrong to paint all nurses with the same brush, but “a rotten apple spoils the bucket”. Some may agree some will not.

It’s hard to understand what triggers the nurses to behave the way they do. This is because they are overwhelmed by the increasing number of patients who visit these facilities every day. Due to the shortage of nurses in South Africa, most public hospitals are at full capacity and are working longer hours. Some nurses feel that they do not have to work as hard because the money they make is not equal to the duties they perform.

While every day is a great day to celebrate nurses, nonetheless, a little empathy and respect for nurses, whether they be male or female, goes a long way, but they are also human and go through life stressors and triggers, something everyone goes through, nurses deserve to be celebrated every day because no one understands what it takes to be a good nurse! Sadly, being a nurse is not as easy as we think.

“I attribute my success to this: I never gave or took any excuse.” – Florence Nightingale


About the author:

Jennifer ‘JennyLove’ Mdluli is a member of the Writers Hub and a  2019 Activator; a radio broadcaster, writer passionate about community development and believes in seeing young people progress and creating positive impact and doing what they love drives her. Her ultimate goal is to tell African stories the African way.

“if it doesn’t work, change the plan not the goal” – Jennifer ‘JennyLove’ Mdluli

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