'A team sport': Chief nurse lauded for contribution to Singapore's COVID-19 fight says nursing tough, but rewarding
SINGAPORE: When she first decided to enter nursing, Ms Christina Lim based her decision on the grounds that nursing would provide a “lifelong assured occupation”. An added bonus, she said, was the nurse’s uniform - having a uniform meant she would not have to concern herself with an officewear wardrobe.
“It was a 19-year-old’s decision at that point,” she said.
“When I finished my training and started working, I actually found that it was a very rewarding job and I enjoyed it.”
More than three decades later, Ms Lim, now 51, is the chief nurse at Sengkang General Hospital - a hospital she helped design.
“When I joined the team, I was asked to lead the inpatient design team to design how the infrastructure of the inpatient ward facilities would be like, as well as various intensive care units and high dependency units, to make sure that the layout suited the workflow the hospital required,” she said.
While it is not the norm for nurses to be involved in the designing of hospitals, Ms Lim said that nurses are aware of the various operational and infection control needs of the hospital as they are involved in “almost every workflow”.
When COVID-19 hit last year, the nursing team at Sengkang General Hospital - under Ms Lim’s leadership - set up systems to track the location of patients and key equipment, as well as detect the proximity and exposure of staff to infectious COVID-19 patients.
This helped reduce the workload in contact tracing and allowed for better allocation of resources.
Last year, the hospital also supported migrant workers at the nearby S11 Dormitory @ Punggol, then the country’s largest COVID-19 cluster with more than 2,800 cases linked to it. The cluster was closed in August last year.
“My main concern then was that we would be overwhelmed by the number of new cases that could potentially be emitted from the dormitories, and we would not have sufficient space, or facilities to actually look after them,” said Ms Lim.
“But thankfully, with the ministry’s and (healthcare) cluster input, we were able to go into the dormitories and offer help and actually help tighten up the situation there so that we wouldn't have too many admissions coming to us,” she noted.
For her efforts, Ms Lim was presented with the President’s Award for Nurses, the highest accolade in Singapore’s nursing profession.
This year, seven nurses received the award, which recognises nurses who have shown sustained outstanding performance and contributions to patient care delivery, education, research and administration.
CHALLENGES NOT INSURMOUNTABLE
Another award recipient, Alexandra Hospital chief nurse Margaret Lee, set up a pilot programme to improve patient care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ms Lee, 45, said she saw how the strict visitor restrictions had a detrimental effect on the care experience and well-being of patients, especially the elderly.
Though arrangements were made for patients to have virtual visits via video-conferencing, Ms Lee said she knew more had to be done.
She put together a multi-disciplinary team made up of nurses, allied health professionals and others to introduce a pilot programme that would empower caregivers to improve the care experience.
“Over two months, we identified 10 patients and their caregivers to participate in this pilot programme. These caregivers were given more rights than other hospital visitors,” she said.
These included being able to visit their loved ones at any time of the day instead of adhering to strict visiting hours as well as allowing caregivers to stay overnight, providing them with basic amenities such as drinks and specially designated areas to rest.
“The response from patients and caregivers have been encouraging and welcoming,” she said.
Although the initiative was halted after Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) came into effect, Ms Lee said she hopes to resume the programme soon.
Ms Lee also helped transform the role of nursing at Alexandra Hospital, with nurses - instead of doctors - now leading the care of a large subset of patients across all wards.
“Patients are categorised by clinical acuity and we are able to segment a group of patients who would have clinical issues resolved, and are staying in the hospital to allow their treatment regime to run its course, rehabilitating, or waiting for transition to home,” she said.
Nurses have “strong support” from doctors and allied health colleagues partnering them in this unique model of care, she added.
One of the biggest challenges in nursing is working with patients or individuals who take healthcare services for granted, said Ms Lee.
“It is often discouraging when I see colleagues go the extra mile and yet efforts are not only unappreciated but taken issue with. Repeated challenges like these can result in disillusionment and burn out,” she said.
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Ms Lim said that while there are many challenges in nursing, overcoming them can mean reaching out to others for help, describing the profession as a “team sport”.
“Whether within or outside of nursing, there's always a lot of helping hands and listening ears to help us deal with challenges,” she said. “I don't think challenges are insurmountable. It's just how we want to put it into perspective.”
“I will say that nursing is a tough but rewarding profession, but it is less tough when it becomes your passion,” Ms Lim said.
Nurses need to take care of themselves, even as they provide the best professional care possible to their patients, she added.
“Take time to recharge mentally and physically and rest so that we are ready to bounce back and do it all over again.”