Nursing involves assisting ill, injured and weak people towards health and helping to relieve patients of pain and discomfort. It also involves curative, preventative, promotive and rehabilitative health care for families, communities and individuals.

There are two main categories of nursing, namely the registered or professional nurse and the enrolled nursing auxiliary.

Registered nurses or nursing sisters take patients’ blood pressures and temperatures. They take samples for laboratory tests. They administer medication and give patients injections. They put in and remove stitches; apply and change dressings on wounds. Nurses prepare patients for medical checkups and for operations. They may assist surgeons and anaesthetists during operations and obstetricians in maternity wards and act as midwives.

Nursing sisters also participate in activities such as supplying health guidance and counselling, and also the diagnosis, planning and execution of nursing strategies for patients.

There are three main categories of nursing, namely the registered or professional nurses, the enrolled nurse and the enrolled nursing auxiliary. All nurses, perform certain duties, particularly during training, but others’ responsibilities and work varies. All three categories register with the SA Nursing Council once they have completed their training.

Registered nurses: both degree and diploma students qualify as registered nurses. Once they have completed their training, they are referred to as nursing sisters. They are responsible for the supervision of enrolled nurses and nursing auxiliaries. Their duties include running a department or ward, keeping records of treatment and progress, advising doctors about a patient’s condition and receiving instructions regarding treatment as well as controlling supplies and equipment, materials and medicine. They may also be involved in the training of nursing students.

Enrolled nurses: perform nursing care within the limits of their qualifications under the supervision of a registered nurse.

Enrolled nursing auxiliaries: carry out basic nursing procedures and take care of patients on a less specialised level under the supervision of a registered nurse.

Areas of specialist nursing practice include: mental health nursing, midwifery, child health, aged care, cancer nursing, intensive care, operating theatre, community health, remote area nursing, research, management, education, and workplace health and safety. Career paths exist for nurses who have further education or have demonstrated advanced competency in an area of specialisation such as:

Clinical nurse consultants: are responsible for the coordination and delivery of complex care in a specific ward or department, or in community settings. They work, in collaboration with clinical nurses, to give direct nursing care to patients with complex care needs, facilitate staff development and undertake research.

Clinical nurse specialists: are registered nurses who have demonstrated competency in advanced practice or have developed competency in an area of specialisation.

Community health nurses: work in the wider community, providing nursing care, health counselling, health forums and group programmes to individuals, families and groups. They may develop and facilitate community development programmes with a health promotion focus.

Mental Health Nurses: provide nursing care to patients with mental and emotional problems who are undergoing treatment and support in hospitals, clinics, community settings or private homes.

Midwives: provide care and advice to women during pregnancy, labour and birth, and post-natal care for women and babies. Midwives must be authorised to practise by their relevant State registering authority.

Nurse educators: assist in the design, implementation and assessment of educational programmes and the delivery of education and staff development programmes, and also manage educational resources.

Nurse managers: are responsible for the effective management of staffing and financial resources enabling the provision of safe, cost-effective nursing care within a specified field or across an entire hospital or health service.

Nurse researchers conduct research into nursing issues.

Nursing Auxiliaries perform basic nursing tasks under the supervision of a registered nurse. They carry out nursing procedures on a less specialised level than registered nurses. They take care of the ill, injured and weak and are involved in health guidance and counselling. They form part of a team of professional workers such as nurses, doctors and other medical personnel. Nursing Auxiliaries usually work in hospitals, clinics and health care centres such as old-age homes.

Personal Requirements

  • strong desire to help others
  • enjoy working with people
  • responsible and dependable
  • able to follow orders carefully
  • able to assume a leadership role
  • able to work as part of a team
  • able to take the initiative in emergencies
  • sympathetic and flexible
  • good communication skills
  • tolerance, patience and tact in dealing with people from a wide range of backgrounds and cultures
  • work well under pressure
  • emotionally stable and physically fit to work long hours

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

To study a degree in Nursing you must have a National Senior Certificate (matric), or equivalent with a Bachelor's Degree pass.
To study a diploma in Nursing at a nursing college you will need to pass matric with a Diploma pass.
To study Nursing Auxiliary at nurding college you will need a Grade 10 although a matric is preferred.

Compulsory subjects: None
Recommended subjects: Mathematics, Physical Science, Life Sciences

Each institution has its own entry requirements depending on the level of study. Because entry requirements differ from one course to another, the requirements of the specific course in which you are interested should be checked. 

What to Study

Degree: Bachelor of Nursing Science (B Nurs) is offered at most universities and lasts 4 years. Clinical training at an approved training hospital and other training institutions is provided in addition to the theoretical training, eg. UKZN, Wits, NWU, UWC, US, UL, UFS, UCT, UNISA, UZ, UJ, UV.

Diploma: TUT, CPUT, VUT.

Nursing College: prospective nursing students are subject to selection. Training is practical and theoretical. Training at the nursing college is done in collaboration with a university. Clinical or practical training is done at accredited training hospitals. The duration of the course is 4 years.

Advanced Training: qualified nurses may study further in specialisation fields such as Paediatric Nursing Science, Orthopaedic Nursing Science, Intensive Care Nursing, Psychiatric Nursing, Community Health Nursing, Geriatric Nursing Science, etc. Postgraduate study is also possible at honours, masters and doctorate level.

Training hospitals : Enrolled nursing auxiliaries can follow a 1-year certificate course at approved training hospitals, old-age homes and clinics.

Qualified nurses register with the South African Nursing Council as general nurses, midwifes, psychiatric nurses or community health nurses.


  • hospitals and clinics
  • government departments
  • South African Defence Force
  • health and welfare organisations
  • municipalities
  • medical doctors
  • industrial organisations
  • nursing agencies
  • self-employment as private nurse

Further Information

The South African Nursing Council (SANC)
Cecilia Makiwane Building
602 Pretorius Street
Arcadia, Pretoria, 0083
Tel: (012) 420-1000

Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA
605 Stanza Bopape Street
Pretoria, 0001
Tel: (012) 343-2315/6/7

Getting Started

  • try to obtain vacation or part-time work in a hospital
  • take a first aid course
  • arrange to speak to a nurse about this career

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

Study Nursing at UFS

Study Nursing at Stellenbosch University

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