Midwife bags law degree to stem tide of negligence claims
Though she has her LLB, the mother of three remains committed to a profession that she feels is often undervalued
Disturbed by an increasing number of medico-legal claims against healthcare workers, Cape Town nurse Lizeka Dana decided to make a difference by getting a law degree.
“I wanted to prove that nursing and law can be integrated ... They are actually intertwined as we work under guidelines, protocols and laws that keep us in check,” said Dana, who will celebrate International Nurses Day on Thursday with her colleagues at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town.
“One cannot operate in a vacuum and without the other. Knowing both can help healthcare workers do their jobs easily and avoid errors that could result in litigation.”
LINK TO THE PAST
May 12 was chosen as International Nurses Day in 1974. It is the anniversary of the birth in 1820 of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.
As a midwife, the mother of three works in an area where health workers are often sued for an array of problems including birth defects and neurological disorders.
“I noted that there was an influx of litigation cases stemming from obstetrics cases in both government and private sectors. That caught my interest,” she said.
“Pursuing an LLB was a way of empowering myself so that I don’t only know the medical aspect of nursing but the legal implications too.”
Dana, a nurse for 13 years, said her profession is often overlooked and disrespected. “I studied further in nursing because I wanted to change the narrative that nurses don’t have the brains and are considered the underdogs of the healthcare system,” she said. “Nursing is not just about wiping people’s bums. It is science- and evidence-based.”
As a senior midwife, she encourages colleagues to take extra care when delivering babies and to “act quickly and strategically” when there are complications that could result in litigation.
In 2021, the heath department said medico-legal claims against the state had doubled to R74bn over the past five years. Most were for babies born with cerebral palsy and other neurological disorders.
After studying full-time in the evenings while continuing to work full-time during the day, Dana graduated from the University of the Western Cape with an LLB in 2016 and decided against a career change.
“I wanted to remain a nurse as nurturing and caring for others is my passion. I would choose to be a nurse every day,” she said.
“Having a background in law has helped not only me, but it has also benefited my colleagues as we always think ahead and do everything possible to avoid pitfalls that could land us in court.
“Having the right attitude towards a patient is one of the things that look so simple, but it can go a long way in limiting litigation. When patients sue they even check your attitude and will note what you didn’t say or do as a healthcare worker. That keeps us on our toes, but it’s better and a lot cheaper to practise preventive medicine than fighting litigation.”
Zukiswa Moses, 25, a registered nurse and acting operational manager in Groote Schuur Hospital’s medical ward, said she made her career choice after her mother died when she was 16.
But Covid gave her a baptism of fire. “It was the most difficult period to be a nurse. Seeing so many people dying was scary for everyone, but we persevered through all of that.
“Being celebrated on International Nurses Day is wonderful, but may we all remember that nursing is not just a profession. It’s a calling and it’s the most satisfying work to do as it about extending help to others.”
“The campaign is designed to shine the spotlight on nurses’ selfless deeds and drive a positive shift in public attitudes towards the nursing profession,” said AfriNurse CEO Sylvester Lehlogonolo Msuthwana.
“The aim of our campaign is to support healthcare by boosting the morale of our local nurses, and driving public awareness of the vital role of nursing as a career and calling.
“SA is home to many extraordinary nurses who are a credit to their profession. We hope to create an environment where these exceptional nurses are continuously celebrated by their peers and the public.”
Submitted stories will be featured on the website.