SINGAPORE: More young Singaporeans today are choosing to study nursing while the number of mature workers joining the healthcare sector has also increased, said Senior Minister of State for Health Dr Amy Khor.
The number of people who have entered nursing courses at higher institutes of education has increased by 33 per cent over five years, from 1,500 in 2012 to more than 2,000 in 2017, said Dr Khor in a year-end interview with Channel NewsAsia on Dec 4.
As for mid-career entrants, close to 70 people have joined the Professional Conversion Programme for registered and enrolled nurses this year, more than twice the annual average of 29 over the last three years.
HIGHER SALARIES, JOB REDESIGN FOR NURSES
There has been a slew of initiatives by the ministry in recent years to attract Singaporeans to the healthcare sector. This includes higher salaries and job redesign for nurses, a position that has traditionally been hard to fill.
For instance, the post of assistant nurse clinician was created in 2014 so experienced staff nurses can take on clinical leadership roles. Since then, more than 800 staff nurses have been promoted.
The ministry is also working with SkillsFuture Singapore on a nursing skills framework which will be released at the end of 2018.
"This is to clearly articulate what are the roles, the skills, the competencies of nurses, to debunk the myth that nursing is a menial and thankless role,” said Dr Khor.
She added that the three new public healthcare clusters will also provide career progression opportunities for nurses, as they will be able to think about expanding their roles beyond the acute care setting into community care or primary care within the same cluster.
Earlier this year, the Health Ministry had said it will need 9,000 additional staff to support new facilities and services in the public sector in the next three years, half of which will be PMET positions such as in nursing, therapy and administration.
Dr Khor said the ministry is making inroads.
So far, close to 1,000 individuals have been hired for the new healthcare facilities such as Sengkang General and Community Hospital, Woodlands Health Campus, as well as the new polyclinics like Pioneer Polyclinic.
However the ministry is unable to confirm if all the hires were not previously from the healthcare sector.
“These staff really are for new facilities. Then, of course, there will be more staff hired as a result of expansion in the acute and the community care sectors,” said Dr Khor.
TARGETING MID-CAREER ENTRANTS
One of them is Catherine Chua who will be working as a physiotherapist at the Sengkang General and Community Hospital, to open from mid-2018.
The former senior sales manager decided to become a physiotherapist after she was involved in a traffic accident.
“I suffered whiplash and also a slipped disk for my lower back so I took on a three-month rehab journey with my physiotherapist," said the 41-year-old.
"I thought I was fully recovered … but it was a year after, I was bending over and I was sneezing and that moment triggered a relapse of my condition. I felt there was something I needed to do about it.”
She decided to take up the Professional Conversion Programme for Physiotherapists three years ago so she could take better care of herself and others with the same condition.
Her school fees were fully paid for by SengKang Health, where she is now serving her bond.
Targeting mid-career entrants is one of the ways the ministry is looking to strengthen what it calls a local core. Currently, about three in four healthcare staff are locals.
While the health ministry will have to complement the healthcare workforce with foreign workers due to manpower constraints at a national level, said Dr Khor, the ministry will continue with its efforts to attract Singaporeans to join the profession.
As for Miss Chua who took a pay cut of 70 per cent with the career switch, it's all about job fulfillment.
"I've seen patients who are post-stroke, not able to walk within the ward, but able to walk out of the hospital after the rehabilitation journey with us,” said Miss Chua.