Nurses in schools help students stay healthy

Student health adviser Mageswari D.N. Amaderlingam, 39, offering health advice to a student at ITE College Central yesterday. Advisers help young people to quit smoking or lose weight.
Student health adviser Mageswari D.N. Amaderlingam, 39, offering health advice to a student at ITE College Central yesterday. Advisers help young people to quit smoking or lose weight.PHOTO: HEALTH PROMOTION BOARD

Nurses like Ms Ruth Tan are based full-time in schools to help students quit smoking or lose weight.

The Student Health Advisor (SHA) Programme that she is a part of helped 3,700 students last year, more than three times the number when it started in 2010.

Yesterday, the Health Promotion Board announced plans to expand the scheme from 20 secondary schools, all three Institute of Technical Education (ITE) colleges and four polytechnics now to 50 secondary schools and all five polytechnics by 2018. The smoking-cessation programme lasts three months and the weight-loss scheme is for six months.

"It can be a challenge to remain unconditionally positive towards the youth smokers and to be consistently patient with them," said Ms Tan, 49. "There is a need to make sessions interesting and relevant... I (also) follow up with students through phone calls or text messages to remind them about their appointments."

The adviser also conducts health screenings for students and helps those with conditions like asthma and diabetes. Students are referred to the programme by teachers and counsellors, or can make their own appointments with the advisers.

Yesterday, Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Transport, visited ITE College Central in Ang Mo Kio to speak to advisers and students who have participated in the programme.

Titus Chia, 18, who studies early childhood education at the Institute of Technical Education College Central, had been smoking for three years before he was referred to the programme in February. "The adviser gave me a toy to keep my hands occupied, so I would play with it in place of cigarettes," said Titus, who has stopped smoking. "It was difficult initially, but my loved ones were a motivation for me to quit smoking."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 13, 2015, with the headline 'Nurses in schools help students stay healthy'. Print Edition | Subscribe