Today marks International Nurse’s Day. Nurses are portrayed in primary school as pretty ladies in white dresses. This depiction is far from accurate. Nurses choose a career that can be stressful and underappreciated all while being compassionate to those who need their help. This is what is embodied by Sister Heather Ferreira.
Sister Ferreira is the Head Nurse at the Rhodes University Health Care Centre. The pressure of the work she does is not to be understated. With only a handful of staff, the Health Centre caters for both students and staff at the University and Sister Ferreira oversees it all.
“I didn’t choose nursing, nursing chose me,” she explained, without a complaint about her busy Monday mornings. Although her original goal was to be a teacher she was pushed towards a career in nursing when that did not work out as planned.
“Someone told me, you have such a compassionate nature, why don’t you go and apply at the hospital and see if they can take you,” she said. This can be seen immediately from her welcoming smile and eagerness to help out anyone, even a journalism student who is cutting into her work time.
Sister Ferreira started working for the Makana Munciplaity in local clinics but struggled to find a post in the beginning. This was soon remedied and before she knew it she found herself posted in clinics across various locations. “If you can name one [a clinic] I’ve worked there,” she commented.
However, since starting her work at the Health Care Centre in 2010, she has developed a love for working with students and explained with a giggle that she finally understands them.
“They are full of surprises, full of life, full of energy and I get so many stories from them,” she said, “I love that stage that they are in.”
One aspect of being a nurse at a university that gets on her nerves is the “lazy” students, those who see the Health Care Centre as an easy out for not doing their work.
“You do get that group of students who do want to abuse us as nurses, this time of year is pre-exams for DP’s and such and they come to us for LOA’s,” she said.
What also clearly frustrates her is the limited budget that the Health Care Centre is allocated. For someone like Sister Ferreira who lives to help others, having to turn students away without medication is against her nature.
“It is really a challenge to order medication and when we don’t have the medication we have to face the student and say, ‘sorry we don’t have this because our budget is limited,’” she explained.
This same challenge is also presented when it comes to the medication supplied to them by the government, such as ARV’s, Family Planning (contraception), TB medication and chronic medication.
Her compassionate nature extends beyond her work as a nurse and into her personal time as well. When she is not taking care of those at the University, she does not stop caring for others. Sister Ferreira enjoys doing charity work in Grahamstown. Her main interests are in working with small children and the elderly, doing the small things that are so vital but often forgotten.
“We are working now with Lebone [Centre]. We work with vulnerable children there just to teach them the basic health skills like brushing your teeth, being health conscience, just making them aware of the small things in life,” she said with a wide smile.
The ‘small things’ also extend out to the elderly. Sister Ferreira said that she loves helping those at the old age home with every day things like washing their hair or cutting their toenails, the kinds of jobs most people would not want do.
When not sharing her time, Sister Ferreira enjoys getaways with her husband and her two daughters to Hogsback or to their house in Jeffery’s Bay. Not forgetting that the whole family also includes her cat and dog.
“I see myself here at Rhodes for the next five years,” said Sister Ferreira. While her daughters are still studying she wants to be around for them. “I don’t see myself here indefinitely, I see myself going elsewhere. I feel that once I’ve learnt enough about the job, I need to move on and learn some more.”