Nursing students in Singapore tapped to supplement healthcare force

Around 1,500 healthcare workers resigned in the first half of this year, compared with 2,000 annually pre-pandemic. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE- Nursing students across Singapore are being tapped to supplement the healthcare workforce, with their attachments with healthcare facilities, such as hospitals, extended or brought forward to an earlier date.

In a joint reply to The Straits Times' queries on boosting healthcare staff with nursing students, the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Ministry of Education (MOE) said that final-year nursing students from Nanyang Polytechnic and Ngee Ann Polytechnic, who were due to be posted to hospitals in December this year for a 10-week placement, will enter their assigned hospitals earlier in November.

The ministries told The Straits Times on Saturday (Nov 6): "As students who are close to completing their courses, they will play an important role in supporting the care team in their assigned wards during their training, and gain real-life experience to prepare them for the workforce."

This comes as the country continues to see more than 1,000 new Covid-19 cases daily and amid resignations from the workforce.

Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary told Parliament on Nov 1 that about 60 per cent of the 219 intensive care unit (ICU) beds reserved for Covid-19 patients are currently occupied.

He said that besides Covid-19 cases, other patients with life-threatening medical conditions have also contributed to the challenges faced by the healthcare workforce.

Around 1,500 healthcare workers resigned in the first half of this year, compared with 2,000 annually pre-pandemic, Dr Janil added.

MOH and MOE said the changes to training schedules in the polytechnics will not result in any delays to graduation or nursing registration, and students will have a scheduled vacation break later.

The polytechnic students will continue to receive a daily allowance for the entire duration of their clinical attachment.

Clinical attachments for the final- and penultimate-year nursing students at the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) were extended for another two weeks to make it a four-week stint. Adjustments have been made to the academic calendar to allow for the extension.

All of SIT's nursing students are already registered nurses, and are well placed to augment the care team on the ground, the ministries added.

"Unlike the polytechnic nursing students, SIT nursing students do not usually receive an allowance during their clinical training.

"An honorarium, however, will be extended to SIT students to acknowledge their contributions due to the extended period," said the ministries.

Meanwhile, the Institute of Technical Education final-year nursing students have been with their assigned hospitals since October for their final phase of clinical training. The attachment is part of their regular training schedule.

The National University of Singapore's Alice Lee Centre for Nursing Studies has contacted its Year 2, 3, and 4 students to gauge their interest in working during their vacation to supplement manpower at the various healthcare facilities.

Professor Emily Ang, the centre's head, said: "Given the logistical planning involved with the healthcare institutions, there are no plans to change the current schedule of students' clinical attachments at the moment."

MOH and MOE said the healthcare institutions will work with the institutes of higher learning to equip nursing students with the skills to perform their roles safely.

They added: "The pandemic has presented a rare opportunity for the students to undergo a valuable learning experience in a live healthcare operational setting, and we hope they will make the best of this, to learn the skills and imbibe the spirit of the healthcare sector."

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