Pam Chetty – From caregiver to teacher
Pam Chetty speaks about being an oncology and haematology nurse and her passion of sharing knowledge with colleagues.
Pam Chetty (55) lives in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal. She is divorced and has an adult son.
At the age of 16, Pam knew she was going to care of the sick. “I lost a loved one to cancer and that was it for me, my path was set. I have immense love for the ill, I always think what if this person was my mum, dad, brother, sister or my child?”
In 1989 Pam trained at St Augustine’s Hospital and worked there until 1997; when she left she was a senior nursing sister. She then joined Ampath (previously known as Bouwer Laboratories) as the regional nursing services manager.
However, she missed medical nursing and patient care, so when she was offered a job, in June 2001, at Durban Oncology Centre she grabbed it. She adds, “This is where my love for oncology grew.” She went on to study oncology and haematology nursing through the University of Alberta, Canada.
In 2007, Pam set off on a new adventure and helped set up practice for one of the first private haematologists in Durban, working there for 12 years. “I found my passion in haematology; I worked on treatment plans, handling medical aids, patient care, planning of transplants, and the running of the practice.”
After many years of hard work, Pam opted for early retirement in 2019. However, her calling still seemed to have life. She was given the great opportunity to teach oncology nursing for the Innovative Cancer Care Foundation (ICCF). “I taught the oncology course content at hospital groups like Netcare and Life as well as state facilities, like King Edward VIII Hospital. It gives me immense pleasure sharing my knowledge with fellow colleagues,”she says.
Since retiring, she has also volunteered at Igazi Foundation, the only dedicated haematological services NGO in Southern Africa. She assisted with a nurses training symposia to non-haematology nurses to generate interest in this field, due to the dire shortage of nurses. She also took the initiative, without being asked, to follow up on the progress of the upgrading of the chemotherapy room at King Edward VIII Hospital, as the project manager was based in CT.
This resulted in Pam being awarded the highest accolade by Igazi, the Ingolozi Award. This is given to those who have worked tirelessly, and are dedicated to ultimately benefitting the patient.
The 55-year-old would like to continue educating nurses in oncology and haematology nursing skills.
A good nurse is born
Pam has the belief that a good nurse is not made but born. “You can see when a patient is anxious. This is when I would make them feel comfortable by taking a moment to sit and chat with them, introducing everyone from the team, answering any questions, and telling them family is allowed to come with, and to encourage them to make notes to remember.”
She adds, “Knowledge is power. So, I allowed patients to ask anything. My motto is: no question is a stupid question! If I couldn’t answer, I would get back to them. For the patient who wants all the info, I would give it to the best of my knowledge. I love using teaching tools, pictures, diagrams and videos.”
“I loved being a nurse and loved the joy of meeting a total stranger and the process of getting to know a side of them. They are vulnerable and scared but put their trust in me and allowed me to care for them. No matter the outcome, knowing you met that person, they’ll be forever a part of your life.”
The emotional side
It’s always hard to deal with patients’ deaths; nurses are taught in nursing school to not cry with/for patients. But as Pam says, “My colleagues will agree it’s the first rule us nurses break.” Pam will never forget the first death (a child) she encountered. “Over the years I have shed tears, and then recall something positive from my interactions with that patient and try and memorise that.”
An unforgettable moment was when a youngster, who had lymphoma at age seven then leukaemia at age 21, invited her to his wedding. “He went on to conceive and had a baby naturally. I think that’s magical!”