SINGAPORE - When the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) broke out in 2003, Ms Hu Xiaomei was deeply touched when she saw on television the hard work of the healthcare staff.
Inspired by their acts, Ms Hu, who was a 19-year-old student in China at the time, enrolled in a nursing course in Kunming Medical University in Yunnan that same year.
After a month in the course, she moved to Singapore on a nursing scholarship and pursued a diploma in nursing at Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP).
In 2007, she was posted to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) to be a staff nurse.
"Initially, I didn't know much about mental health and I felt like I should have gone to the general hospital, perhaps in the emergency department, and do more about saving lives," she said.
But she soon realised there was meaning to her job at IMH. "One thing unique about being a nurse in mental health is that I will see the same patients coming back. So I built long-term and deep relationships with them. It's really entering into someone's life and helping them to go back to their usual lives and into society," said Ms Hu, now a Singapore permanent resident.
With 12 years of experience as a nurse in the hospital, Ms Hu's dedication to her profession earned her the prestigious Nightingale Award, presented by Senior Minister of State for Health and Law Edwin Tong, who was guest of honour at the IMH Nurses' Day celebration and awards ceremony on Friday (Aug 2).
The award recognises one nurse each year for providing excellent nursing care and being an exemplary mentor to other nurses.
It was one of 19 awards given to outstanding nurses, such as for their contributions towards excellent patient care and teamwork, at the ceremony.
When IMH established the Slow Stream Rehabilitation Programme for long-stay patients with good rehabilitative potential in 2015, Ms Hu joined the team.
Ms Hu, 34, is now a nurse clinician in the programme's ward where she cares for patients and provides guidance and supervision to the nurses.
To provide vocational training for patients, she introduced an activity where she taught them how to make hair clips and handicraft in 2016.
"I like to do handicraft with my daughter and it is one of my hobbies. So when I saw the patients wanting to have something to do, I bought materials online.
"We made hair clips and other handicrafts and put them up for sale within the hospital," said the mother of two children, a daughter aged 10 and a son aged four. Her 38-year-old husband is an IT manager.
She also took it upon herself to equip the patients with money management and basic customer service skills so that they would be able to sell their craftwork within the hospital and keep the takings as pocket money.
On IMH's recovery-oriented practices, Mr Tong said at the awards ceremony: "To help patients stay well and thrive in the community, IMH has renewed its focus on patient rehabilitation and recovery-oriented practices. This new model of recovery care is a shift away from the old approach to mental health treatment where patients are passive recipients of care."
Apart from the Slow Stream Rehabilitation Programme, which focuses on long-stay patients, IMH will set up a new rehabilitation programme for acute patients through a Recovery Centre pilot. It will focus on patients who are at high risk of becoming long-stay patients.
This is so that they can benefit from the rehabilitation and succeed in returning to the community, and even work.
Ms Hu said: "My hope is that all the patients that come to IMH will eventually go back to the community and lead a normal life again. I hope they can be independent and do the normal things that you and I can do."