Over half the country’s population relies on the public healthcare system. And with the majority being unable to afford the services provided at private hospitals and clinics, public healthcare practitioners have to deal with high volumes of patients on a daily basis.
While they continue to deal with a number of challenges, such as a lack of infrastructure, long working hours and staff shortages, the priority of every healthcare practitioner is to save lives and provide the best healthcare possible to every patient.
No-one knows more about the challenges these practitioners face than Dr Nokwethemba Mtshali-Hadebe, who has recently been tasked with running the Bertha Gxowa hospital in Germiston, Gauteng. At the age of 31, she is the country’s youngest hospital CEO and heads a team of 767 staff members.
The University of KwaZulu-Natal graduate says her job comes with a lot of pressure but she’s determined to turn the hospital into one of the best in the country.
Dr Mtshali-Hadebe was asked to serve as acting CEO for the hospital in 2015 and was officially appointed to the position in May.
“The past year, as acting CEO, I’ve done very bold things, which I wouldn’t have done if I was permanently employed in the position. I might have been scared to do so,” she says.
One of these was to look at the issue of staff attitudes. The hospital held sessions with staff and examined challenges in the system, as well as what motivates and demotivates them.
“We’ve got good men and women out there, we just need to tap into their potential. As a manager, you must be able to translate the vision to the people who need to do the work,” she says.
Some of the insights she gained from those sessions were that some staff members were demotivated and didn’t feel appreciated. “The nursing staff, for example, felt that they only see managers when they do something wrong – never when they do something right,” she says. There were also issues with communication and transparency, which created barriers between management and staff.
Dr Mtshali-Hadebe has now established monthly merit awards, which are given to staff members who go above and beyond the call of duty, and news bulletins are sent out to inform staff of happenings around the hospital.
She does weekly walkabouts in various sections of the hospital to remian in the loop about all issues and challenges.
“One of the things I tell my team is that I need to be confident that if I were to collapse here in my office I would get the best care. I shouldn’t feel that I need to be taken to a private hospital,” she says. She emphasises that her staff should treat patients with the same care they would want to receive themselves. Her biggest goal is to turn the hospital into a centre of excellence.
Being a CEO is a big challenge, but Dr Mtshali-Hadebe says she can handle the pressure.
“One of the things I realise now is that I was doing my bit for the country and for my community. My goal was not to inspire people, but I see that what I’m doing does just that. Yes – it does come with a bit of pressure, but I hope my work speaks for itself,” she says.
She recalls the time when she was the president of the Student Representative Council at university and a fellow student told her she was running the office the same way everyone had done. At the time she felt this observation was a bit harsh, but realised she had to do an even better job than her male counterparts.
“I will continue to do my work. I work hard and I won’t be apologetic about that. I know there’s the pressure of being young, female and black, so I need to work three times as hard as any average person to prove that I am worthy and that I can do the work,” she says.
Before joining the hospital, Dr Mtshali-Hadebe worked for Metropolitan Life. She left to take the position of clinical manager at Far East Rand Hospital. She has an MBA degree, is married and has a three-year-old son.