Hospitals wooing former nurses back to work

Refresher courses held for these nurses, who are valued for their experience

Madam Noraini Umar, 51, quit nursing in 2007 to look after her children and sickly parents. She rejoined NUH last year.
Madam Noraini Umar, 51, quit nursing in 2007 to look after her children and sickly parents. She rejoined NUH last year.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Hospitals are looking to recruit not just young nurses fresh out of school, but also former nurses who want to return to work.

There is even a "refresher course" at two hospitals for returning nurses. Since 2010, the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) has trained 37 former nurses under the Health Ministry's Return to Nursing programme. The National University Hospital (NUH), which started running the course last year, has trained 10 nurses.

It is compulsory for those who have not practised nursing for five years in a row to attend this course.

Although these former trainees make up only a fraction of all nurses, hospitals say that they are worth their weight in gold.

Unlike fresh graduates, such nurses often re-enter the workforce with a wealth of experience.

"Nurses who return are often very experienced," said Dr Tracy Carol Ayre, group chief nurse at SingHealth. "With prior experience, they are able to integrate quickly into their clinical teams, ease into their roles confidently, and carry them out effectively."

Dr Catherine Koh, who is chief nurse at NUH, said experienced rehires often serve as good role models for junior nurses. "Experience usually brings with it wisdom," she said. "For example, the calmness when faced with an emergency, a higher sense of situational awareness, and more knowledge."

In recent years, the Health Ministry has rolled out a slew of measures targeted at public-sector nurses, intended to attract new faces to the profession and keep existing ones.

They include higher pay, better opportunities for career advancement, and more autonomy for senior nurses.

Some hospitals have also started offering flexible working hours or part-time employment for those who have commitments at home.

Such arrangements have been popular, especially with former nurses who took up the job again.

One of them is 51-year-old Noraini Umar, a senior staff nurse who rejoined NUH last year and now works in the operating theatre. She gave up her job eight years ago to spend more time caring for her young children and sickly parents.

"My little boy was nine and I wanted to give him more attention," she said. "Now, my son has already finished his O levels and my parents are much better."

She now works in day surgery, which means more regular working hours.

Another is senior staff nurse Lynn Ng, 40, who joined nursing in 1999 but left five years later. She too had young children then, and chose to take up a sales and marketing job that paid about 50 per cent more.

"I needed a higher pay to support my two boys," Ms Ng recalled. "But since young, I have always wanted to be a nurse, making a difference in people's lives."

She returned last December and now works in SGH's urology centre. "After nine years out of nursing, I came back," she said. "Once a nurse, always a nurse."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 08, 2015, with the headline 'Hospitals wooing former nurses back to work'. Print Edition | Subscribe