SINGAPORE: As the battle against COVID-19 rages on, nurses in Singapore and around the world have found themselves on the frontlines of the fight against the disease.
For veteran geriatric nurse Ms Tay Yee Kian, part of this has meant recognising the dangers posed by the pandemic to the elderly in nursing homes.
The 51-year-old advanced practice nurse stepped up to the challenge, leading her team to train and supervise operations to conduct swab-testing at 14 nursing homes in Singapore.
Ms Tay - who is assistant director of nursing at the National University Health System’s (NUHS) regional health system office - also organised a team of community nurses to join the NUHS team in screening and swabbing foreign workers in dormitories.
Meanwhile for Ms Kala Narayanasamy, the infection control practices she learned following the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak of 2003 were put to good use in the current pandemic.
The 59-year-old deputy director of nursing at Woodlands Health Campus tapped on this experience to introduce workflows and standard operating procedures to convert wards at the Yishun Community Hospital to care for COVID-19 patients.
“All that we learned from SARS, we can put into place now,” she said, noting the short time period they had to put such procedures in place.
For their contributions to nursing, Ms Tay and Ms Kala have received the highest honour in Singapore’s nursing profession, the President’s Award for Nurses.
The national accolade was given to five nurses in total this year, the Ministry of Health announced on Tuesday (Jul 21).
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In addition to Ms Tay and Ms Kala, the other recipients include Singapore General Hospital Deputy Director of Nursing Ms Patricia Yong Yueh Li, who serves as disease outbreak nursing lead for the hospital.
Ms Yong, who began her nursing career 35 years ago, has been involved in COVID-19 operations and planning as well as overseeing a team of nurses managing COVID-19 patients in intensive care.
Another recipient, National Cancer Centre Singapore Assistant Director of Nursing Dr Alice Chua Foong Sin, contributes to the professional development of nursing in Singapore. She has led six research studies as principal investigator and serves as a member of the centre's nursing research committee.
The fifth recipient is Dover Park Hospice's director of nursing Ms Chin Soh Mun, who has more than 48 years of nursing experience.
She developed the first clinical pathway for hip fracture in Tan Tock Seng Hospital and played an integral role in the hospice’s expansion from inpatient hospice services to include home care and day care services.
The President's Award for Nurses recognises nurses who have shown sustained outstanding performance and contributions to patient care delivery, education, research and administration.
It is open to all registered nurses from healthcare institutions in the public, private, and community care sectors, as well as those in educational institutions.
Each recipient was awarded a trophy, a certificate signed by President Halimah Yacob and a S$10,000 cash prize to be used for their professional and personal development.
Since its introduction in 2000, 77 nurses have received the award.
"THE UNIFORM ALWAYS GAVE ME A SENSE OF PRIDE"
For Ms Kala, coming to nursing was a family affair. Two of her sisters were nurses, and her mother had always wanted for them enter the profession.
“The uniform always gave me a sense of pride,” said the nurse of four decades.
Ms Tay told CNA that as a child, she was inspired to become a nurse after watching how doctors and nurses took care of her grandmother after she suffered a stroke.
“As I watched how they went the extra mile to provide care to my grandmother and comfort to us as her family members, I was inspired to choose nursing as a career, to make a difference in the lives of patients and their families,” she said.
Her focus on gerontology came as a young staff nurse, when she noticed her colleagues “grumble” about a particular doctor’s long morning rounds.
“However, what struck me was how this doctor would sit by her elderly patient, hold her hand and talk to her with much patience and care,” said Ms Tay.
“The way in which she cared for her patients set her apart from the other doctors.”
That doctor was the late Dr Lee Kng Swan, a pioneer of geriatric medicine in Singapore.
“Her devotion to her patients left a deep impression on me, and subsequently influenced the way I care for my patients and my career as an advanced practice nurse in geriatric care,” said Ms Tay.
Ms Tay’s current focus is on community nursing - to help bring healthcare services beyond the hospital - and she leads a team of more than 50 nurses and allied health professionals to develop community nursing in the western part of Singapore.
In 2016, her team introduced the NUHS CareHub programme, a transitional care programme supporting patients with complex care needs in a community setting after being discharged from NUHS hospitals.
READ: ‘We can tell them life is still worth living’: The community nurse who helps keep the elderly out of hospital
Community nursing is not without its challenges, she said, noting that providing care in patients’ homes means nurses do not have access to equipment and resources available in hospitals.
“This really requires us to be innovative, adaptable and clinically adept, so that we can continue to provide care to our patients,” she said, noting that telemedicine for example plays a bigger role in monitoring patients’ health due to COVID-19 concerns.
Ms Kala has been involved with the modernisation of nursing in Singapore, with her past projects including the implementation of a self-checkout inventory management vending machine to track the usage of items.
She was also involved in the introduction of the use of a streamlined wound assessment process that provides accurate wound measurements and image capture.
Both measures were implemented by the Woodlands Health Campus team at Yishun Community Hospital.
Ms Kala is currently involved with the planning for the Woodlands Health Campus, scheduled to open in 2022, drawing on almost 40 years of experience to lead the development of nursing services for the division of medicine at the campus.
Noting her previous role as a clinical nurse educator, Ms Kala said she is passionate about grooming the next generation of nurses.
“I will always tell our nurses who come and join us: 'I think nursing will never fail to reward you',” she said, noting nurses have to be passionate about their role.
"All these awards and promotion and everything have your name (on them) and are just waiting there for you to come and claim ... your full passion for what you're doing is always rewarded.”