SINGAPORE - The death of a friend in 2014 was not just a stark reminder to Ms Vivian Leong Wan Yee that life is short, it also pushed her to start a new career that she had always wanted to try - nursing.
Her family had not wanted her to pursue nursing after her O levels as it was perceived back then as a "dirty job" dealing with other people's body waste and hygiene, so she worked as an engineer and then went into banking.
Her opportunity to take up nursing came in 2015 through a Professional Conversion Programme (PCP) run by what is now Workforce Singapore, and, this time, she had the full support of her family as they saw how passionate she was.
"We will never know what will happen next, so why not try out something that I had always wanted to do. At least, I will not have any regrets even if I tried and failed," says Ms Leong, 43.
She now works as a senior staff nurse in a renal medicine ward at Singapore General Hospital (SGH).
She took a pay cut when she switched careers, but enjoys her job as she feels satisfied when patients get better or when she helps fulfil their last wishes.
The 2018 gross median monthly salary for local nurses who joined healthcare institutions that year was $3,900, excluding employer Central Provident Fund contributions.
She can also help when nursing care or medical advice is needed by relatives, friends and neighbours.
Ms Leong says many people still may not have a good understanding of nurses' primary role, but she has been pleasantly surprised by the level of support from Singaporeans amid the pandemic.
"I am encouraged and heartened by the outpouring of support from many Singaporeans, who, in spite of these trying times, have shown their appreciation for the sacrifices of front-line workers through generous donations of food and words of encouragement."
Q: What do you do at work?
A: Nurses need to be able to coordinate care across all aspects in order to provide holistic care to patients as well as to their families.
Thus, we take on multiple roles during our shift. For example, as caregivers, we need to know the disease or procedure that the patient is admitted for. From there, we will manage their physical needs, treat health conditions and prevent further illness.
This is carried out through monitoring things such as the patient's vital signs, blood and specimen test results, nutrition intake, psycho-emotional status and progress on their treatment regimen.
I perform wound and operation site dressing, post-procedure stitch removal and peritoneal dialysis for patients.
Nurses are also patient advocates. We have to speak up for their best interests, especially because those who are very unwell may not be able to comprehend their medical condition.
We highlight issues that need attention and make recommendations on treatment plans when doing ward rounds with doctors, or coordinate the patient's care with medical social workers, dietitians, physiotherapists and so on.
We also act as educator, by ensuring that our patients understand the type of procedures that they will be undergoing.
We plan ahead to ensure our patients have continuity of care after being discharged. We explain to them and their family and caregivers what to expect and what to do when patients return home.
We also make arrangements for referrals, appointments, home care and equipment they may need.
Lastly, we guide new nurses to ensure that they can provide competent care according to the hospital's policies and guidelines.
We have to be ever-ready and on standby for deployment to other areas to perform our nursing duties in the light of the pandemic.
Q: What is your educational background and how have you upgraded your skills along the way?
A: I hold an engineering diploma and worked as an engineer for three years before I attained my finance degree in Australia in 2005. I then worked in banking for nine years.
In 2015, I decided to pick up nursing, and graduated from Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP) in 2017 with a nursing diploma, with SGH's sponsorship. I am currently pursing my full-time advanced diploma in nursing, again sponsored by SGH, at NYP.
Q: Why did you decide to pursue this career?
A: In 2008, my mother underwent a major operation and was hospitalised in SGH for a month.
During that time, I started to wonder how good it would be if I had studied nursing so that I could understand the medical terms and take better care of my mother.
However, I did not have the courage to leave my comfort zone as I was earning a good income in the banking sector.
The sudden death of a friend led me to think about what I should do for myself and my ageing parents.
I brought up the subject of nursing during a casual conversation with my banking manager, who pointed out that I should give it a try if I am constantly thinking about it.
Surprisingly, I also got the blessing of my parents and close friends. With their support and encouragement, I was accepted into the PCP for registered nurses.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you have faced in getting to this point in your career? How did you overcome them?
A: It was challenging to embark on the PCP accelerated course as we had to complete a three-year course within two years.
Time management and support and encouragement from my family, friends and lecturers played a big part in helping me complete the course.
As a junior staff member new to nursing, the learning curve was extremely steep, but I was very fortunate that my colleagues, managers and mentor - most of them younger than me - were very patient and showered me with lots of encouragement and support.
SGH has also given me lots of opportunities to enhance my knowledge through e-learning and in-house courses and talks.
Q: What are the best and worst parts of the job?
A: Nursing is never dull. We are constantly facing new challenges and learning new things.
We get to see patients who came to us in critical condition recovering well under our care, and we have the ability to save lives.
I once had a patient who collapsed during my night shift and we managed to send him to the intensive care unit after nearly three hours of resuscitation. While doing the handover, I noted that day happened to be the patient's birthday.
We are also able to help people bid farewell with dignity and comfort during their final moments.
I am grateful for appreciative patients and family members who care for nurses like their own family, and for the care, love, support and recognition received from the community amid the pandemic.
The worst parts of the job are unreasonable demands from patients or family members and dealing with aggressive patients.
Q: What are your tips for people who want to start or grow their careers in this field?
A: Nursing is not an easy profession as mental and physical demands can be overwhelming at times.
However, it is a rewarding job that requires dedication and commitment to care for patients.
If you possess the required abilities and are ready to take on a challenging but fulfilling role that can make a difference in someone's life, then nursing may be for you.
Jobs in healthcare
ABOUT THE INDUSTRY
Singapore's healthcare system employs more than 100,000 people across both the public and private sectors.
About 70 per cent are healthcare professionals such as doctors, nurses, dentists, pharmacists and allied health professionals, including physiotherapists, medical laboratory technologists and optometrists. Another 30 per cent are administrative workers, support care staff like nursing and therapy aides, and ancillary staff like housekeepers and cooks.
There are more opportunities now for locals to join the sector. For example, local nursing intake increased by about 50 per cent from 1,500 in 2014 to 2,200 in 2019, and new undergraduate allied health programmes have been introduced in the last two years covering areas such as dietetics and nutrition, and speech and language therapy.
The Government is also increasing training capacity for local mid-career switchers to enter nursing and allied health roles, such as in physiotherapy, occupational therapy and diagnostic radiography.
It aims to provide 900 training places between this year and 2023.
It announced this year that an estimated 56,300 public healthcare workers, including nurses and support care staff, will receive pay increases of between 3 per cent and 14 per cent over the next two years from July.
JOBS AND SALARIES
Here are the 2018 gross monthly salaries for common job roles in healthcare. Ranges shown are from the 25th to 75th percentiles, for Singaporeans and permanent residents who joined healthcare institutions in 2018.
• Enrolled nurses and registered nurses: $3,300 to $5,200
• Allied health professionals: $4,100 to $5,000
• Administrative or corporate functions (includes staff in managerial positions): $3,500 to $6,200
• Patient service associates: $2,400 to $3,000
• Support care (healthcare assistants and therapy assistants): $1,800 to $2,300
HOW TO JOIN THE SECTOR
• Professional Conversion Programme for Registered Nurses (Diploma): Two-year full-time train-and-place programme comprising on-campus training and clinical attachments leading to a diploma in nursing. Course fees are fully sponsored and a training allowance and graduation bonus are provided. Applications are now open at this website.
• SGUnited Traineeships: Company-hosted traineeships for fresh graduates
• SGUnited Mid-Career Pathways Programme: Company-hosted attachments for mid-career workers
• Agency for Integrated Care's Senior Management Associate Scheme: Training for mid-career Singaporeans with managerial experience to join the growing community care sector
• Various scholarships and study awards by the Ministry of Health and SkillsFuture Singapore
Sources: Workforce Singapore, Ministry of Manpower, Ministry of Health