Besides opportunities to upskill, nurses need flexibility at work, say industry experts
A new 24-month part-time nursing degree programme will allow nurses to study and work at the same time.
SINGAPORE: Registered nurses here will soon be able to improve their skills by joining a new part-time nursing degree programme, but what will help them pursue such goals is flexibility at work.
This was the view of advanced practice nurse Jamie Lim and president of the NTUC Healthcare Services Employees Union K Thanaletchimi in an interview on CNA’s Singapore Tonight on Wednesday (Nov 30), as they discussed the future of nursing in Singapore.
“Nurses are lifelong learners, so the demand for us to upskill is always going to be there. But I think the important thing is to have a programme that is flexible so that nurses can balance between work, family life and study,” said Ms Lim, deputy director of nursing service at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
Ms Thanaletchimi also noted that nurses need “a lot of support” at work. In the conversations and dialogues the union has with nurses, something that stands out is their need for flexible work arrangements, something which the union promotes, she said.
“We have instituted, in a collective agreement … a commitment by … healthcare institutions that they will commit to flexible work arrangements for nurses, so that they can well balance their work life, their upskilling, going for training and also self care,” said the former Nominated Member of Parliament.
Under the Bachelor of Science Nursing (Top-up) programme offered by Kaplan Higher Education in partnership with UK-based Northumbria University, nurses can take a minimum of 24 months to complete their education. Among the modules covered are innovations in healthcare, health promotion and nursing older people with complex needs.
Upon graduation, they will have options to be in roles such as chief nurse, medical care manager or nurse educator.
Ms Lim underscored the importance of such training. While Singapore has always been training specialised nurses, there is a need to refocus on training them in community nursing, she said.
“(We) really (need) to upskill them to look at the aging population as well as to equip them to look after patients with chronic diseases not limited to high blood pressure and diabetes and hypertension,” she said, adding that there is a “long list” of other chronic diseases.
She added that equipping nurses with skills on disease prevention and health promotion are also timely, especially in line with the shift towards preventive health with the Healthier SG movement.
Ms Thanaletchimi spoke about the support needed to attract and retain nurses, especially on the issues of salary, attention to mental wellbeing and career progression, as they face high workloads and responsibilities.
Among locals, the attrition rate was 7.4 per cent in 2021, up from 5.4 per cent the previous year. For foreign nurses, it more than doubled year-on-year to 14.8 per cent in 2021.
“There's lots of recent revision that’s been done, but certainly we need to ensure that wages are competitive to the type of job and responsibility they carry,” she said.
In July, the Health Ministry announced that more than 25,000 nurses would receive a special payment of between 1.7 and 2.1 months of their base salary.
The base salaries of public healthcare nurses were also increased between 5 and 14 per cent following a review last year.
In terms of welfare, institutions need to take care of nurses’ mental wellness, she said.
“It is important that we provide all the support that we can through proper counseling, third-party services, to allow for the counseling to happen in private,” she said.
She added that younger nurses, especially, want to develop their careers.
While programmes like the new part-time nursing degree will go some way towards this, another way to realise this aim is to elevate the status of support staff, something the union, employers in the public sector and the Health Ministry are looking at continuously.
“If we were to (up)skill the other workers supporting the nurses, certainly nurses will be able to create more value to their job and have greater satisfaction discharging their duties,” she said.