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Corrie Smit shares his NMCH journey

While fundraising has been a hard task master for Corrie Smit, his tireless work over more than 18 months will culminate in some of the most skilled medical staff working for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital (NMCH). He recently shared his story with us:

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When people ask me about my background, most of them don’t expect to hear that I worked in the mining industry for 19 years. In 2002, I joined the Mining Qualifications Authority as Chief Operating Officer (COO), and in 2009 I became the CEO at the Health and Welfare SETA. It was there that I first became aware of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital Trust, which is tasked with fundraising and building NMCH. And when I retired, I was asked to raise funds for the training and up-skilling of the nurses and nurse managers who will work at the Hospital.

In particular, the aim was for them to be trained and equipped to operate at (advanced and highly specialised) levels in the various paediatric sub-specialities required by the new hospital. It took a good 18 months, but in June 2013, we finally secured a R70.3 million grant from the National Skills Fund (NSF) for the necessary skills development of 465 nursing and management staff.

At the start of the NSF project, I was asked to oversee the grant funding administration and to assist with implementation. In doing so, I engaged with Wits University, the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and the University of the Free State, with a view to supporting their unfunded postgraduate (advanced diploma) students with NSF bursaries. This support was later extended to both undergraduate and Master’s degree students.

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Six months later, we realised that we also needed paediatric and neonatal credit-bearing short courses to enable nurses to migrate from general adult care to child care. All three universities agreed to assist, and by mid-2014, we started allocating bursaries to nurses who wanted to participate in this component of the project. In December of that year, the NSF approved a change request that enabled the Hospital Trust (NMCHT) to offer bursaries to four surgeons and eight doctors to start their Fellow training at the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits University.

In January 2015, a year after my initial application was submitted, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), through the JHPIEGO Maternal and Child Survival Program, made R20 million available to support a Nursing Skills Development Exchange programme that will see 40 NMCH nurses and nurse managers visiting the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore, USA, in February 2016. These nurses and managers will attend an intensive “Train the Trainer” structured learning programme.

Over the course of this long, but rewarding project, fundraising has turned out to be a hard taskmaster! However, from the start I had the pleasure of working closely with Ncediwe Stemela, Lead Nurse for Clinical Services; Joe Seoloane, Project Lead; as well as Dr Adele Tjale, who assisted us with nursing technical advice. Over the years, I have often been amazed to see how dedicated and focused the entire Hospital Trust team is in ensuring that we achieve the goal of delivering this critical project without any flaws or hiccups, and I truly count myself lucky to be working with them on a daily basis.

Looking forward, it is not long until the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital opens its doors in late 2016, and will be operating at full capacity with well trained staff, giving quaternary care to all its little patients and their families. What an amazing achievement!