27 May 2021 | Story André Damons | Photo André Damons
Prof Magda Mulder, who has been the Head of the School of Nursing for the past 10 years, retired on 26 May after 41 years at the University of the Free State (UFS). “I was privileged to work this long. I do not know of any other academic of my age who is still in a permanent position. It is time now to go and make room for a younger generation to take the school forward.”

Looking back on a career spanning four decades at the University of the Free State (UFS) School of Nursing, Prof Magda Mulder, who retired as Head of the school at the end of May, had more highs than lows. Her last day was on 26 May 2021 – ending a career of 41 years. 

One such achievement that this dedicated nursing professional can be proud of, is helping to ensure that the School of Nursing was one of the first training schools in South Africa to complete its curriculum during a year marked by a hard lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“My years at the School of Nursing were wonderful and joyous. Things do happen, and not everything was sunshine and rainbows. However, the past 10 years have been especially good because of the people and the team I have worked with, our achievements, and all the things we have done that we can be proud of,” said Prof Mulder.

Her highlights 

Prof Mulder’s first task when she started working at the UFS in 1980, was to standardise all the basic clinical procedures in nursing. This was an enormous undertaking that later turned into a textbook, now in its fourth edition (2019). 
Among Prof Mulder’s many highlights – which included starting the first nursing simulation laboratory, becoming part of the Faculty of Health Sciences, and moving to the Idalia Loots Building – the biggest highlight was receiving the Atlantic Philanthropies grant of R16 million. 

“During this period, we established an Academy and started developing short learning programmes to generate third-stream income for the school. In total, 35 short learning programmes were developed, the Benedictus Kok Building (Nursing education facility) was renovated, and new simulation laboratories were installed. It was a wonderful experience, and we started using simulations as an innovative teaching strategy for our students. The school benefited a great deal from that grant,” said Prof Mulder proudly. 

Nursing not the first choice 

According to Prof Mulder, nursing was not her first choice as a career, as she wanted to study either plant or animal science. Due to a lack of funding, she had to choose between nursing and teaching to earn money and be independent. Nursing won. 

“I have never regretted it. These have been wonderful years. The university is a great place to work. There is never a dull moment, and you do not know what to expect next. It was white-water rafting: you must go, go, go with the stream, and I think this was my salvation. I was able to adjust and adapt despite my age. Holding on to your old beliefs does not work.” 

Prof Mulder spent 10 years as Head of the School of Nursing, starting in 2011. Prior to this, she was Programme Director. 

Time to leave
According to her, COVID-19 made her realise that it was time to leave and make room for new blood to take the school further. 

“I was privileged to work this long. I do not know of any other academic of my age who is still in a permanent position. That in itself is a privilege. But it is time now to go and make room for a younger generation to take the school forward,” said Prof Mulder. 

With COVID-19 came many challenges, and she realised that her team needed to make a 90 degree turn from face-to-face teaching to online teaching. 

“It was not easy, but we did it. We were one of the first training schools in South Africa to complete the year. We had to plan to make up for the hours lost due to COVID-19, and we did it by getting the students to work night shift. We had to obtain special permission from private hospitals to let our students work longer hours.” 

The pandemic was also her worst time at the university.  On returning to campus during the lockdown to help students finish their training, Prof Mulder felt the impact of the lockdown. “The campus was dead quiet with not a soul in sight. It was like a graveyard. This was the worst part for me. Usually, I can hear the students from my office, I hear their laughter, and I hear the excitement of graduation, the drums. However, there was nothing. It was as if the world had come to an end.”

Future of nursing

After 41 years, Prof Mulder still talks with passion about nursing and students. She is excited about the future of nursing, the students, and the work the UFS School of Nursing is doing to prepare students for their careers.  However, she is also deeply concerned about the profession she loves so dearly. 

“There is a tremendous shortage of nurses worldwide, and we came to realise this during COVID. There are simply not enough nurses, especially in specialisation areas such as critical care, theatre, primary health care, and forensic nursing. Currently, all those programmes have been phased out. “We are waiting for the South African Nursing Council (SANC) to approve our new curricula,” said Prof Mulder.   

What comes next? 
Retiring is a bittersweet moment. “It was many years of long hours, working during holidays, working over weekends, and then suddenly there is nothing. It is a new phase in my life, and I am looking forward. I am excited but also hesitant, as I don’t know what to expect from the future.”

“I will miss nursing; I will miss the academic environment. I am a dedicated type of person; the academic environment was my life. These are my friends. I am going to miss the friendships I made here. As an academic, you do not have time to make other friends, so colleagues become your academic friends, and later they become your academic family. I will miss my team. I have an amazing team.”



Final goodbyes
Prof Marianne Reid, Associate Professor: School of Nursing (worked with Prof Mulder at the UFS since 2005)

“What an honour and privilege to work with Prof Magda. What nurse would not want to have Prof Magda as a model in her profession? She was the same as a person. She made me feel safe as an employee precisely because she could identify and exploit my personal limitations and possibilities.”

“Prof Mulder was the type of leader who invited us to participate, and then gave her input by pointing out the pros and cons. May this new phase in your life be a blessing and be aware of the blessings from our Lord daily. May the prospect of big plans feature in the future.”

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