'Bringing dignity to fellow human beings'

'Bringing dignity to fellow human beings'
Dr Subadhra Devi Rai (centre), senior lecturer at Nanyang Polytechnic's School of Health Sciences (Nursing) guiding a group of second-year nursing students in patient handling.

WHEN Dr Subadhra Devi Rai first arrived in a refugee camp near the Thai-Myanmar border in 2005, she noticed women doing fine needlework by candlelight.

Worried for their eyesight, the 51-year-old immediately started working with NGOs in the area to ensure the women received regular eye checkups.

Dr Rai was then a health coordinator with Women's Education for Advancement and Empowerment - an organisation that empowers and supports the needs and basic human rights of indigenous women.

Apart from arranging for the eye checks, she also made other assessments and provided health education materials for non-governmental groups in Thailand as well as several other areas thereafter, to address their pressing needs.

For her extensive work, the senior lecturer at Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP) has become the first Singaporean nurse to be named a recipient of the 2015 International Achievement Award by the International Council of Nurses' Florence Nightingale International Foundation.

The biennale award will be presented to Dr Rai on June 21, in Seoul, South Korea, in recognition of her work on the health of women and refugees.

"Subadhra Rai has shown dedication in providing nursing care to vulnerable populations since the beginning of her career," said the foundation's president Judith Shamian.

"Her special focus on issues such as gender-based violence, sexual health and reintegration of refugees is particularly topical."

Growing up, Dr Rai sometimes read stories about Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. When she turned 18, she decided to go into nursing.

In 1997, she went to the Edmonton Centre for Survivors of Torture and Trauma in Canada for further education. While there, she decided to focus on health issues regarding women and refugees.

Since then, she has gone on to work and volunteer in several places, including Chiang Mai in Thailand and Gujarat in India, where she did her PhD fieldwork.

She returned to Singapore in 2010, after working overseas for 21 years.

While she is no longer out in the field, her efforts have not stopped. As a senior lecturer at NYP's School of Health Sciences (Nursing), she continues to keep herself busy, training the next generation of nurses.

"She believes that nursing is about bringing dignity to a fellow human being," said the School of Health Sciences (Nursing) director Wong Luan Wah, who nominated Dr Rai for the award.

"And she uses that belief to teach her students, to tell them what nursing is."

For example, she teaches her students to ask their patients for permission before touching them, and to consider the financial background of their patients before advising them to buy organic food.

"I use my experiences to teach them the values I believe they should have," said Dr Rai. "I want them to be caring individuals who are sensitive towards their patients."

With this award, the nurse now hopes to also send the message to other nurses that "the sky's the limit".

andreang@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on April 2, 2015.
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