It has been an uphill slog getting former nurses back into the profession, but an enhanced scheme to attract these healthcare professionals is off to an encouraging start.
The upgraded Return To Nursing scheme, which introduces a bonus of up to $5,000 for former nurses joining the community care sector, has signed up 19 people just months after it was announced in April.
To put the number in perspective, only 37 people signed up for the older edition of the scheme at the Singapore General Hospital between 2010 and 2015.
While the older scheme aimed to draw former nurses back to hospitals, those under the enhanced one will work in places like nursing homes and home-care organisations. This is where they are sorely needed, as a recent emphasis on getting seniors to age in place means growing demand for nursing services in the community.
Singapore has long struggled with a shortage of nurses, leading the Health Ministry to roll out a slew of measures in recent years to attract new faces and keep existing ones.
"These non-practising nurses have relevant working experience, and can help to build the nursing capabilities of the community care organisations," said Ms Teo Sio Hoon, chief of the Agency for Integrated Care's intermediate- and long-term care manpower development and resourcing division.
The returning nurses - mostly aged 40 to 60 - usually have to take a refresher course. Those joining the community care sector take elective modules on topics such as palliative care. "These are people who are coming back to an environment that has changed so much, and they fear not being able to cope with the changes," said senior nurse educator Cheah Le Le.
Madam Sandra Foo, 46, who quit her job as a polyclinic nurse five years ago, will join St Joseph's Home as a palliative care nurse later this year, inspired by the nurses who cared for her mother when she was ill with cancer during the five years she was away from nursing.
"My mother used to be a very caring person, and she always taught me to give back," she said. "I find it's very meaningful to hold a person in the last moments of their life."
Former hospital nurse Lily Goh, 55, who cares for psychiatric patients at Tai Pei Social Service, left nursing for 15 years before making a comeback. She said: "Here, many of the patients have mental disorders and you have to learn every individual's behaviour."