Nurses day- So what!


Nurses day is officially 12 May. It started in 1965 in the US, where they celebrate from the 6th to the 12th. The 12 May is the birthday of the first official nurse, Miss Florence Nightingale.

I became a qualified general nurse in 1990. We didn’t have nurses day in South Africa. I am not sure why we have it now?

Nurses day

Nurses day is supposed to honour the nurses around the world for their hard work, dedication and caring. Their alleviation of suffering and their advocacy for the health of those who cannot advocate for themselves.

Except for a few hospitals who acknowledge their nursing staff with a little gift. A key ring, a pen, a mini chocolate, a mug with the hospital logo on it, nurses day is mostly celebrated in the colleges where an inspirational speaker will come and talk to the students.

I must admit one company in South Africa did acknowledge nurses day 3/4 years ago. Sorbet beauty bar gave all nurses on presentation of their Council registration slip, a polish and paint treat.

I loved that, I was lucky it happened to co-inside with my day/night shift change, so I had a few days with beautiful nails.

The sad truth

Sadly I don’t think the majority of nurses actually deserve the acknowledgement. This is a generalisation I know. Nursing was a professional calling. You knew when you signed up that, you were never going to get rich, you were going to work long, hard hours (12 hour shifts), you were going to work weekends and nights, public holidays and school holidays.

You were very likely not going to receive thank you’s or praise from the patient who just threw up all over your clean uniform. Patients were going to swear at you and shout at you. Hopefully you would have paid enough attention during class to realise those where the ones who need you the most as they were likely the most afraid.

The rules

The rules were simple to follow. You wore your white uniform, your dress covered your knees, even when sitting (I do admit to liking the fact that nurses may now wear pants).

Sensible shoes, shoes that made a noise disturbed your patient’s rest. Heels hurt your knees and back. Shiny patent shoes are easily scuffed and are hard to keep clean. Plain lace ups or slip ons that covered your feet and supported them during the long day.

No necklaces that dangled. You were allowed a small symbol of your religion on your necklace. The length of your necklace was equally important. It had to be short enough that a patient couldn’t grip it and pull or it had to be long enough to be out of sight.

Your hair had to be neatly kept away from your face. It had to be kept clean and although colours were allowed they could not be outrageous. You for instance couldn’t have a pink head. I do think today that if a nurse has a streak of colour in her hair it is not the end of the world. If I were still nursing I would allow a streak during awareness campaigns, such as ’10 days of awareness of violence against women and children’ or Breast cancer month, or prostate cancer awareness in November, International HIV/AIDS day, diabetes month, TB awareness etc.

Tattoos were taboo, there is still a stigma attached to them. While I love some of the art work that people are wearing, I am in semi agreement about tattoos. I think it is okay to have a discreet tattoo with a loved one’s name if they have passed.

Make up had to be understated if worn, it should still be. Let’s face it no one wants a nurse who looks like she’s been made up to either stand on a street corner, had a fight with a make up palette or is dressed for a party. Make up makes us feel better and in some cases look better. Even patient’s in hospital would like a nurse to help them put on a little lipstick now and then.

Earrings were only studs or sleepers in your ears and only one earring per ear. I am okay with more than one earring but not dangling feathers or chains. For the same reason as no dangling necklaces.

Nurses need to have a watch with a second had, this is important in doing observations on your patient. No wrist watches were allowed as they could not only injure your patient but you the nurse. When you put your arms under a patient to move them, the watch could hurt or scratch either of you. Nurses fob watches (broaches) are still available and many pharmaceutical companies had them out, as well as being available online.

Photo by Black Chitsulo on Unsplash

Where has our professional image gone?

Today I see nurses wearing all sorts of rings on their fingers. Rings pose the same risk to patients as wrist watches. I can’t even begin to count the number of nurses who have either lost a stone out of their engagement rings or actually lost the whole ring. The rules uses to be, you could only wear a plain wedding band if you were married.

Your nails had to be short and unpolished or at worst polished with a clear varnish. Once again this was for patient safety and your safety. Long nails could scratch patients and bacteria can get in under flaking nail polish.

NO GUM! To this day if someone is chewing gum, I don’t hear a word they are saying I am too busy worrying that they are either going to spit the gum at me while they are talking or choke on it, or I am think that this is what a cow chewing cud looks like.

We took pride in our profession, we looked and dressed the part of professional women. Now I see them getting off the taxi’s in their slippers, fancy pantyhose with patterns better suited for a smart occasion that dealing with bodily fluids.

Uniforms that are one size to small, and because most hospitals have gone back to the white shirts, we can usually see the colour of your leopard print bra!

The fake eyelashes that remind me of spider legs, just waiting to fall into an open wound.

The braids that can’t always be washed or they fall out. I often found pieces of hair lying around on the ward floors, having come loose from someones head. People lose hair, that is the reason to keep it tied back or clipped.

The rings and fancy watches with their little stones harbouring germs.

The long fingernails that are never quite properly scrubbed, lets be honest, hand washing is much talked about but seldom done properly! The coloured nail polish you haven’t quite had time to redo is now chipped and flaking and two nails have nothing on at all.

Are you a real nurse or is this just your job?


If you are a nurse, stand in front of a mirror and take a good, honest look at yourself. Do you look professional, do you look like someone you would entrust your mother/father/husband/child to, or do you just look like you are dressed as a nurse?


Is this just a job or are you proud to be a nurse?


Being a Nurse


From the age of 5, when I got my first nurses outfit, I knew I wanted to be a nurse. I don’t ever remember changing my mind.

I have been told that when I was around 10 and one of my grandmothers had surgery, I was the one that cared for her and managed her dressings.

I also gave her her last bath on the day she died from cancer at the age of 81. It was a month after my wedding.

I don’t know  why I wanted to be a nurse, it is definitely not from altruism. As the saying goes, ‘some people are only alive today, because it is illegal for me to kill them’.

When I was at high school we had guidance counselors, these were the people who were supposed to help and encourage us on our chosen paths. My particular counselor told me that I was too lazy to be able to finish Nursing college. Out of the 4 of us that went, I was the only one to complete my full 3 years.

My first job was my worst, it was for a care facility in Berea. The owner was one of the most racist people I had ever met. Considering it was still during apartheid, that is saying a lot!

Then I worked for an endocrinology practice for a short while as a receptionist, I then moved to a great pharmacy in Bez Valley for around 3 years as the clinic nurse, this was a hugely innovative idea as pharmacy clinics were unknown.

Shortly after my marriage I went to work for an extremely busy GP practice, with 2 of the most dedicated doctors. I worked there for 5 years full time. During this time sadly one of the partners died in an horrific car accident.

During this time I was going through fertility treatment.

I learned so much working for these doctors! I eventually ran a staff clinic at a large company for the surviving partner. In total I worked for this practice for 11 years.

I did a little part time work when I fell pregnant with child number 3 and 4.

I then moved on to nursing education. I taught Care workers in Kempton Park for 2 years and then first year clinical skills for another 3 years. It was hard work, we had 60-70 student per year and I was expected to facilitate them all. Theory was taught by someone with a Nursing Education degree.

I was thinking about going back to varsity and getting my degree in order to find a teaching post with less students, when my father fell seriously ill while on holiday.

I flew down immediately to support my mother and convince my father to go to hospital, where he was admitted for 5 days.

When I returned to work and put in for family responsibility the hospital administration (not my direct supervisor), decided that family responsibility is for the death of a parent, not the hospitalization, when another person was available to care for them.

During the previous week I had become disillusioned by nursing after hearing a student say she was only doing nursing so that she could have a job while she builds her business!

There was also an incident of a patient who had died due to lack of due diligence on the part of the entire medical team. From the nursing staff up! I used it as a case study lecture to highlight the correct nursing care, record keeping and protocols of a patient whose life could have been saved.

I will be writing a lot of posts about nursing and it’s decline.

I handed in my notice immediately. I had no job and was unlikely to find one soon. The first month I would be out of work and would need to take of 8 days of work, due to religious holidays. I also did not think I would get a nursing post that would allow me Friday afternoons and Saturday’s off every week, as I do not work on the Sabbath. (I do not work on Jewish holy days or Sabbath).

I then phoned my husband to tell him.

That first day I was home, I went to the hospital that was near my house and asked to speak to the Emergency department manager. We filled in forms and then I had a job, 4 days a week, no Fridays or Saturdays. I was there for 2 years.

I then heard about a practice job, I spoke to my unit manager and told her I would like to interview for the job. I contacted the doctor and went for my interview. I am still working there today.