Five receive President's Award for Nurses this year

Since 2000, 61 nurses have received the award.
Since 2000, 61 nurses have received the award.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - From caring for patients at the end of their lives to helping recruit nurses for Ng Teng Fong General Hospital and Jurong Community Hospital, Madam Kuttiammal Sundarasan has seen it all.

The 57-year-old chief nurse at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital has served for 40 years and was involved in growing the nursing team to 1,800 across the two hospitals.

Madam Kuttiammal is one of five nurses honoured with the President's Award for Nurses this year, the highest accolade in the profession.

The awards were presented by President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the Nurses' Day Reception at the Istana on Thursday (July 27).

Since 2000, 61 nurses have received the award.

For Madam Kuttiammal, the award means recognition for her years of hard work. She was inspired to be a nurse by her late mother.

"She was a very selfless person," Madam Kuttiammal said.

She was also inspired by nurses she saw in action when, together with her mother, she visited her grand-uncle who was in a hospital in Johor Baru.

"He had this illness that caused faecal matter to come out of his abdomen," she recalled. "I watched the nurses care for him and I thought it was so noble."

Madam Kuttiammal was also shaped by the experience of caring for her husband, who was found to have a tumour in his brain in 2010. He died in 2012.

"I understood how frustrating it is for caregivers to communicate with healthcare workers and how desperate they can be," she said.

It taught her the importance of treating dying patients with dignity, sensitivity and gentleness.

"It's all really abstract until it happens to you. Then, you see how important it is to really care for a patient when all other cures fail," she said.

Fellow award recipient Margaret Soon Mei Ling, 46, was an infection control nurse during the Sars period in 2003, when she was pregnant with her first child.

"Honestly, I was afraid. Fear is a natural thing but we also recognised that it was our duty so we hung on," recalled the deputy director of nursing at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, who holds a doctorate in nursing.

During that period, some nurses wrote their wills, thinking they might die. They were even afraid of going home for fear of passing the disease to their family members.

"The nurses supported each other. It was a beautiful camaraderie and spirit that we had," she said.

The episode changed the public's perception of nursing, which Dr Soon is grateful for.

"We received so much love and support from the nation. We got cards, encouraging notes, even food. When I felt down and tired, those were very encouraging things that made us power on."