WORKING with critically ill patients can take its toll even on the most devoted of nurses, but who takes care of nurses when they have burnout?
This is just one of the issues Port Elizabeth nurse Maggie Williams, 54, tried to find an answer for in her research. Williams, a mother of two and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) lecturer, went from nurse to doctor when she graduated last month with a PhD in nursing.
Her PhD thesis focused on HIV/Aids because she wanted to develop a nursing model that could assist healthcare professionals optimise the treatment, care and support for HIV positive children.
“Caregiver fatigue and burnout were an underestimated problem. [They are] caused by having to cope emotionally and physically with the great effects of a disease for which there [is] no cure. The study highlighted the sense of futility experienced by the caregivers who deal with this field of nursing, particularly before there was antiretroviral medication,” she said.
Her research – entitled A chronic care coordination model for HIV positive children requiring antiretroviral therapy (ART) – showed an increase in the paediatric population suffering from HIV/Aids.
“Although South Africa has been working to create programmes that facilitate the distribution of ART, there remains a dearth of people accessing it. The provision of ART care has stumbling blocks, including the lack of decentralisation of facilities to provide treatment. There is a shortage of staff, lack of training on the provision of ART to children and minimal on-site mentorship of staff,” she said.
She has been in the profession for 36 years and obtained, among others, a master’s degree in advanced primary health care in 2006 prior to completing her doctorate last year.
She began lecturing full time at NMMU in 2007.
“Lecturing is hard work but it’s rewarding because I get to do the things I love: nursing, teaching and working at NMMU …
“I always emphasise to my students that one person can make a difference. Nursing isn’t an easy field to work in, you need to be compassionate, caring and committed to improving your patients’ lives,” she said.
Williams also recounted her experiences at the House of Resurrection in Salsoneville.
“The haven helped me grow as a person because of the intensity of suffering I witnessed. It was also where I started to care passionately about HIV/Aids and the effects of the disease on patients and their families,” she said.
But nursing is only one aspect of her life.
“I’ve been married to Craig for 20 years and we have two children.
“Matthew, 15, keeps me busy due in part to the fact he has an autistic spectrum disorder, mild cerebral palsy, partial sight and epilepsy. Rebecca,14, equally shares in my time and we are gainfully occupied with her various activities.
“They are the centre of my universe – I love my family dearly, they complete me,” she added.