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Dynamite comes in small packages

- By Reshma Lakha-Singh

The old cliché, “dynamite comes in small packages” resonates very firmly with Professor Judith Bruce, Head of the Wits School of Therapeutic Sciences in the Faculty of Health Sciences.

Strong, determined, tough, courageous, kind, altruistic, and a devoted mother and grandmother – are just a few in a long list of adjectives that describes her. A modern day Florence Nightingale and a highly skilled nurse by profession, Bruce’s characteristics are as if made to order for her field of work.

Career-wise, her illustrious path within the nursing fraternity speaks for itself: without a doubt, she was and still is an extremely successful and professional teacher, mentor and manager. Almost every possible accolade in her field of expertise has been bestowed upon her, coupled with the extremely impressive nursing qualifications to her name. Having completed her Bachelors, masters and PhD, she is a registered nurse, midwife, nurse tutor, community health nurse and nurse administrator. In addition, she was recently inducted as a Fellow of the Academy of Nursing in South Africa in recognition of her National and International contribution to nursing education and scholarship at the Annual Nursing Education Conference.

Her reputation in the field of nursing is deeply entrenched. Since 2006 she has been reeling in the awards, which started with the Purple Cord Award for exceptional service as the Secretary-treasurer of the Tau Lambda at-Large Chapter in Accra, Ghana. This is an organisation that was established to join nurses of Africa with the Sigma Theta Tau International group of nurses.

In 2010, she received the Phillip V.  Tobias Teachers Award for teaching excellence at Wits University. To date, she has supervised 36 masters students and six PhD students. In 2010, the Tau Lambda at-Large Chapter again honoured her, this time with a Charter for Extraordinary Service and Leadership. She was also recently appointed as Chairperson of the International Academic Nursing Alliance. “This I do after 3am every day,” she jokes.

An advocate for nursing education and scholarship, Bruce mentored many nurse academics not only in South Africa, but also on the African continent, and worked constantly to improve nursing education at both universities and nursing colleges. Her expertise has been recognised at the highest level as evidenced by her appointment to the Ministerial Task Team on Nursing Education and Training and as member of the Standing Committee on Health of the Academy of Science of South Africa. The committee is currently working on a Consensus study to reconceptualise education and training of an appropriate health workforce.

Bruce has been responsible for leading the Wits team in the NEPAD funded initiative in partnership with Collaboration in Higher Education for Nursing and Midwifery in Africa  (CHENMA) to improve the qualifications of nurses, nursing lecturers and clinicians at nursing schools and hospitals in African countries where specialised skills are lacking. Read more about the initiative and Wits graduates.

Her first cohort of students in Mozambique graduated in June this year. “The work with CHENMA is philanthropic. You commit yourself, because you want to enable change and increase learning. You never do this for the accolades or the money. Nursing is a calling,” says Bruce.