Tribute to Professor Leana Uys

28 March 2014 | Kath Defilippi | Opinion

The South African palliative care community, particularly the nurses associated with the Hospice Palliative Care Association (HPCA), were sad to learn of the death of this inspiring and generous leader.

Professor Leana Uys

We are privileged to have had a long and fruitful association with this very special woman. Way back in 1992, when she headed up the School of Nursing at the Durban campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, we approached her in her dual capacity as an educator and member of the South African Nursing Council (SANC) to ask her opinion on the draft palliative nursing course that a group of us had compiled under the auspices of HPCA, as we wanted our course to have SANC recognition. Her positive and encouraging response resulted in immediate submission of the course, which was subsequently endorsed by the SANC within the next six months.

Her obvious grasp of and appreciation for palliative care led to her becoming the external examiner and moderator for the course, a responsibility that she did not take lightly. Before each exam she would spend approximately an hour going through the questions that our group of tutors from the various hospices had compiled and I had ratified. She would then challenge us to ensure that the questions ensured that the exam was not merely a memory test, but stimulated the students to think critically and creatively. In addition to this being a tremendous learning opportunity, it was exciting and enjoyable.

A similar process occurred after our small group of HPCA tutors had marked the papers in the various provinces, Leana would draw papers at random from the total batch from each province and give feedback on any discrepancies in the marking and make valuable comments with regard to how the results reflected on the various questions. This proved to be another motivating learning experience.

There is a lovely framed photograph of Professor Leana Uys with the first batch of nurses who successfully completed the nursing course together with their HPCA tutors and Dr Zweli Mkhize, the first Provincial Minister of Health in the new democracy, in the entrance hall to the Highway Hospice Education Centre. It was taken in 1995.

Her passion for and international recognition with regard to research made her an obvious candidate to speak on this topic at one of the early HPCA annual conferences.This address made a lifelong impression on me and is in no small way to blame for my ongoing interest in acquiring evidence related to palliative care, a passion that has continued post-retirement.

In 1999 the HPCA Patient Care Committee was awarded a two-year tender by the HIV/AIDS Directorate of the National Department of Health to pilot the Integrated Community-based Home Care (ICHC) model developed by South Coast Hospice; to compile a curriculum for the community caregivers involved in ICHC, and to develop guidelines and standards with regard to the delivery of palliative care. This funded project included a strong research component that required the services of an independent principal investigator. Despite her own hectic schedule Leana unhesitatingly agreed to fulfil this function. I was privileged to accompany her on several fun-filled data collection expeditions. Her final report and several articles that she published, recommending the widespread implementation of ICHC, are still powerful advocacy tools.

She was approached by Oxford University Press about writing a book on home-based HIV/AIDS care soon after the completion of the tender. She invited several of us from the hospice movement to participate in this project. The book, which has had a number of editions, was co-edited by Sue Cameron and several of us contributed chapters. It was first published in 2003.

The last time I saw Leana was over dinner in a Pretoria restaurant about two years ago. She had been the driving force in establishing the Academy of Nursing in South Africa (ANSA) and brought me my certificate of membership. Perhaps it is not surprising that the main topic of conversation during dinner was about options regarding the upgrading of the Short Course in Palliative Nursing, that had led to our paths crossing in the first place. She is fondly and gratefully remembered.

Few South African Nurses are untouched by Professor Leana Uys’ work. Described as a generous mentor, her role in establishing the academic credibility of the Short Course in Palliative Nursing is acknowledged and appreciated by all those who were privileged to have worked with her, as well as those who have followed. Her legacy lives on as the Short Course in Palliative Nursing continues to provide registered and enrolled nurses with the knowledge and skills to provide quality care to their patients.A dvocacy for a South Africa Palliative Nursing qualification is a lasting tribute. – Hospice Palliative Care Association Nurse Educators