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A proud pathfinder for women in veterinary nursing

Mthimkhulu follows her passion for animals

Phumelela Mthimkhulu is one of the country’s first veterinary nurse graduates.
Phumelela Mthimkhulu is one of the country’s first veterinary nurse graduates.
Image: Vukuzenzele

Being one of the country’s first veterinary nurse graduates is a dream come true for Randburg, Johannesburg, resident Phumelela Mthimkhulu, 21, who has been passionate about animals since she was a child.

Mthimkhulu recently graduated from the University of Pretoria (UP), the only veterinary training facility in SA, with a Bachelor of Veterinary Nursing degree.

“It’s crazy to wrap my head around. To know that I was part of the first class to do the bachelor’s degree, which has been years in the making, is an honour.

“I’m grateful for the opportunities and doors that will open for us nurses to further our studies and specialise within our profession, which was hard to do in the past,” she says. 

Tamarin Fisher, president of the Veterinary Nurses Association of SA, says this is the biggest milestone in the profession’s 42-year history.

 “The new three-year degree will give qualified nurses the opportunity to enrol in postgraduate studies, which will hopefully culminate in the awarding of masters and PhD degrees.”

Veterinarians treat animals’ injuries and illnesses, similar to how a doctor provides health treatment for people. Veterinary nurses are essential in vets’ professional teams, says Mthimkhulu.

“Some of the vital skills a nurse has to display are patient care, client communication, assisting veterinarians with procedures, and anything that will help the veterinary hospital to function at its best.

“It’s one of the most rewarding professions. If you want to be a veterinary nurse, don’t allow fear or a lack of knowledge to deter you from trying it out and enjoying it because it will change your life for the better,” says Mthimkhulu.

Bursaries to address skills shortage

Due to a severe skills shortage in the sector, Mthimkhulu did not battle to find a job.

“I was lucky enough to secure a job at Fourways Veterinary Hospital during my final year. I started working there about a month after my final exams and I’ve been enjoying every moment of it,” she says.

The Health and Welfare Sector Education and Training Authority (HWSETA) is committed to addressing the extreme skills shortage in the veterinary sector and ensuring transformation.

It recently launched a veterinary science career guidance campaign, in partnership with the department of higher education and training, and will be visiting rural schools to encourage pupils to consider veterinary services as a career path.

It also announced 60 bursaries to address the critical shortage of veterinarians and para-veterinarians in rural areas.

“The bursaries are specifically aimed at learners in rural areas as they can take their knowledge back to their homesteads,” says Dr Nomfundo Mnisi, the chairperson of HWSETA.

The deputy minister of higher education, science and innovation, Buti Manamela, welcomed the bursaries.

The UP’s faculty of veterinary science will assist HWSETA in its marketing, bursary funding and recruitment campaigns.

“We will also assist the HWSETA in administering the bursaries, which were allocated for first-year veterinary science students from the designated groups,” says Chris van Blerk, head of communications and media at UP’s faculty of veterinary science.

He says youth hoping to follow in Mthimkhulu’s footsteps and register for a first bachelor’s degree at UP need to have completed their national senior certificate or equivalent qualification, and meet minimum requirements.

“For the Bachelor of Veterinary Nursing degree, they need a minimum admission point score of 28 and an NSC with English home language or English first additional language, mathematics, and physical science or life sciences.”

For more information about the sector, youth can contact private veterinary practices or speak to compulsory community service (CCS) veterinarians who are part of the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development around the country.

“The CCS programme aims to provide accessible and affordable veterinary services to under-served and poor resourced areas within SA. As such, vets in the programme will always serve as good information resources,” says Van Blerk.

– This article first appeared in GCIS Vuk'uzenzele

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