Cathy Duddy (right) has always burnt the candle at both ends. She has worked, studied and raised children – concurrently. And she is no stranger to quality improvement, having worked in Saudi Arabia from 2008 to 2012 and jointly responsible for ensuring that her resident hospital, the King Abdulaziz Medical City in Riyadh, accredited by the Joint Commission International in 2009, continued to meet and maintain standards.

Cathy completed diplomas in General Nursing and Midwifery in 1981 and began her nursing career in the paediatric ward at Woodstock Hospital. For good measure, she then went on to acquire a Diploma in Paediatric Nursing Science.

Cathy then transferred to the largest children’s hospital in Africa – the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town – where she spent a considerable amount of time in the cardiac intensive care unit. Since nearly all children in Africa who need major cardiac surgery are cared for in this unit, it was a learning laboratory like no other.

She took a break from 1987 to 1990 for child rearing but at the same time studied for a BA Cur degree. By 1990, she was ready to return to work and began part-time night duty in the high-care unit at Leeuwendal Mediclinic. While she worked at night and looked after her children in the day, Cathy finished her nursing degree and immediately began an LLB degree.

She had another baby in 1997 and a year later moved into the world of nursing agencies, working exclusively in paediatric and neonatal intensive care units throughout the Western Cape. Due to her experience in the neonatal intensive care field, she was often asked to run the entire unit which included orientation and education of all nursing and auxiliary staff and parent and sibling education.

While she was doing this, working for two different nursing agencies at nights over weekends, she also completed her articles and was admitted as an attorney of the Cape High Court in December 2005.

On July 1, 2008, Cathy moved to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia and she remained there until 2012. She was promoted to the position of Clinical Resource Nurse in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at King Abdulaziz Medical City and for six months was seconded to the paediatric cardiac intensive unit. Most of her time, however, was spent in the neonatal ICU where her main role was to facilitate staff development for the multicultural nursing workforce with duties that included staff competency assessment, orientation of new staff, continuing clinical education and bedside teaching for all staff and quality improvement initiatives.

When she returned to South Africa, Cathy was employed at the Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital of the Netcare Group as a Clinical Nurse Specialist in the neonatal intensive care unit and a lecturer in neonatal intensive care run by Netcare Education.

Cathy’s passion is quality improvement. “In Saudi they had fantastic training for staff. Everyone was involved. We would teach skills and guide them according to a competency-based system.”

After she attended a quality improvement skills workshop at COHSASA last year, Cathy recalls saying to her husband that if she could have any job, she would take anything that COHSASA could offer her.

“I hope to see accreditation happen across the board and that as part of the medical team, people will know about accreditation. I want the general public to know about it and understand it and demand it.”

Cathy describes herself (and her husband) as “perpetual students”. They have three grown up children. When she is not applying herself in an intense career, Cathy keeps her hands busy. She loves crafts like beading, crocheting and calligraphy and one of her joys was to sew sequinned costumes for two of her children who became champion ice skaters.

She is now entrusted with the task of developing standards for COHSASA in tandem with professional groups, users, clinical staff and academics. It is daunting and challenging but Cathy has “eaten” many elephants before.