Frontline staff series: A new reality has taught us new skills


Student Health Services' Sister Linda Dalton and Counsellor Natasha Hatha have both been on campus at Lockdown level 5 and shared their stories.

“These are strange times with severe challenges.  It makes me sad when people don’t wear masks as we have to protect one another - the virus is still here.  It is frustrating wearing masks, but each of us has a responsibility to do our part to stay healthy going beyond these times”, says professional nurse in Student Health Services Sister Linda Dalton. 

Sister Dalton, 59, has been with the University for 23 years and is responsible for the South Campus clinic management as well as primary health care in general, including student clinic appointments from the common flu, to anti-retroviral administration and family planning activities and campaigns.

“Reality is so different now, when one looks beyond the fear”, she says.  “on a positive note, the pandemic has taught us new skills, such as Zoom and Teams meetings and so many other opportunities, saving time and money and contributing to productivity”.  It has forced the health profession to provide health care in totality, not only providing care for general conditions, but also mental health referrals and increased levels of health promotion.

Collaboration in the multidisciplinary team involvement has improved tremendously – on national, provincial and local levels.  Other areas that have improved greatly are the availability of resources in hospitals (ventilators etc.), PPE and infrastructure.  

Free webinars on a multi-disciplinary level are now available to ensure that every citizen in South Africa can deal with the effects of COVID-19 in their work and home environment.

“The impact from early March this year from a medical point of view, has been immense and increased from 23 March with lockdown level 5.  It was a shocking experience to drive to work on empty roads with a mask and gloves as protection to an empty campus.  Facing a pandemic – only known in historical reference – and applying that knowledge was scary.  It was also terrifying as it was unknown how the virus was going to affect everybody,” she says.

During lockdown level 5, Sister Dalton started working on campus but was then obliged to work from home when legislation changed, forcing those with co-morbidities to do so.

“This was stressful and frustrating in a different way. As a nurse, I was used to working on the frontline with people and then working on my own, dealing with new admin tasks from early in the morning until late at night was challenging”.

In July, she returned to Second Avenue Campus and is now sitting in an office alone, not being able to have tea with her colleagues and doing mostly COVID 19-related admin work as opposed to working with students. This is her new reality.  

“I believe you make a difference, even if you contribute meaningfully to only one life at a time. We have many success stories to tell.  Working with students, seeing them making progress because of counselling and new developments, are what I love about my job”, says Student Health Services Counsellor Natasha Hatha, 39, who has been on campus since Lockdown Level 5.

Natasha has been working at the University since 2007 and also studied a Bachelor of Psychology here.  She says her role includes pre- and post-HIV counselling and testing for students.  

This also includes adherence counselling - preparing students to be mentally ready to take anti-retrovirals (ARVs) regularly and as prescribed so that they don’t become resistant. 

As a counsellor, she also works with victims of Gender Based Violence (GBV) (referred to her by the GBV counsellor), rape and other personal counselling related cases. 

She rotates between the four campuses.  Currently she is more involved with the COVID-screening on North Campus.

“HIV is also one of the COVID co-morbidities and therefore we arrange that our HIV-positive students are equipped to access treatment, by sending them referral letters, especially to out-of-town students.  We email and phone all HIV-positive students to get their flu injections, to ensure they take care of their overall wellness”, Natasha says.