'Mother of Nursing' is Woman of the Year

Visually handicapped scientist takes home Young Woman prize

SINGAPORE Nurses Association president Lim Swee Hia has been asked countless times if Florence Nightingale is her role model. Every time she has replied: "No, my mother is."

Associate Professor Lim, 63, has applied her 85- year-old mother's philosophy of "putting family first" in the workplace - fighting for her nurses to be recognised as equal partners alongside doctors.

Yesterday, she was named Her World Woman of the Year for 2012/2013 in a ceremony at the Shangri-La Hotel. Speaker of Parliament and MP for Jurong GRC Madam Halimah Yacob was the guest-of-honour. She was a recipient of the award in 2003. Her World, published by SPH Magazines, is the best-selling women's title here.

The annual award, which began 22 years ago, is given to Singaporean women who have contributed to society, projected a good image of the nation, and are role models for other women.

Unofficially recognised by her peers as the "Mother of Nursing", Prof Lim was commended by judging panellist and hotelier Jennie Chua for raising the profile of nursing in Singapore.

"She has succeeded in her career, while attaining a balanced life," Ms Chua said, adding that Prof Lim would "prepare a crockpot of soup every morning" for her two children.

Prof Lim was instrumental in helping the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) obtain the Magnet Accreditation in 2010 - the highest accolade for nursing excellence. Only 5 per cent of hospitals in the world have this recognition, and SGH was the first in Asia to receive it.

When she first began looking for a job 40 years ago, her father warned: "Remember, no nursing."

"At that time, there was very little information about nursing besides it appearing to be a lowly job," she said. Today, the mother of two encourages many of her staff to pursue higher qualifications.

"The modern nurse is a thinking nurse, and each one of us has limitless potential," she said.

The former paediatric nurse rose through the ranks to become SingHealth's group director of nursing, and SGH's nursing director.

She got her master's degree in nursing from Australia's Curtin University in 2008 and became its Faculty of Health Services' first international adjunct professor.

Under her leadership, the proportion of Sing- Health nurses with tertiary qualifications has risen from 30 per cent in 2008 to 40 per cent as of February this year. Over 100 of these nurses have master's and PhD qualifications. She is also the senior director of SingHealth Alice Lee Institute of Advanced Nursing and director of special projects at SGH as well as the National Heart Centre.

Prof Lim's successor at SGH, Dr Tracy Carol Ayre, said of her boss: "She has always stressed servant leadership. She once told me, 'The higher you rise, the lower you bend."

A*Star research scientist Yeo Sze Ling, 35, also went home with accolades, receiving the Young Woman Achiever award. Dr Yeo, who lost her sight at the age of four after being diagnosed with glaucoma, was praised by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at this year's National Day Rally. But panellists had picked Dr Yeo for the prize in April, even before the high-profile mention, Ms Chua said.

Despite her handicap, Dr Yeo has earned three degrees, including a PhD in mathematics. She is also an adjunct assistant professor at the Nanyang Technological University. She helps other handicapped people and tutored a student in Chinese Braille, who became the first visually handicapped student to pass Chinese at O and A levels here.

Dr Yeo said:"I have received this award for who I am, and I would not be who I am today without the family, friends and colleagues I've relied on through the years."


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