First S'porean to win international nursing award shares her most emotional stories

First S'porean to win international nursing award shares her most emotional stories
VETERAN: Dr Subadhra Devi Rai is a senior lecturer at Nanyang Polytechnic’s School of Health Sciences (Nursing).

Through her 30 years as a nurse, she's felt the highs and lows of life - from the joy of patients' recovery, to the depths of grief over their deaths.

And through it all, she has strived to always get better at the art of nursing, especially for women and refugees.

For her stellar contributions in that arena, Dr Subadhra Devi Rai, 51, will be the first Singaporean to receive the 2015 International Achievement Award given by the International Council of Nurses' (ICN) Florence Nightingale International Foundation (FNIF).

The Nanyang Polytechnic's School of Health Sciences (Nursing) senior lecturer's journey to receiving the award has been a lifetime of eye-opening - sometimes heart-breaking - experiences.

In replying to queries from The New Paper, Dr Rai, who holds a PhD in Population Health from the University of Alberta, Canada, shared two anecdotes that span the spectrum of emotions.

In the first incident, a young pregnant woman had to have a C-section and because of complications, died on the table while her baby was delivered.

"It is something I will never forget. We all cried that day," she said of the incident when she was working in the Post-Anaesthetic Care Unit in New Westminster, Canada.

"It taught me the importance of not taking life for granted."

In another case, one patient had become gradually paralysed after being diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disease.

The patient could not do anything for herself except blink. But she recovered and walked out of the hospital.

"It was then that it dawned on me how remarkable the human body is and the will of the human spirit to live," said Dr Rai.


"The fact that she knew we were doing our best to care for her and she got better, was reward in itself...

"These moments are the most satisfying. You feel all the difficult points in the journey were nothing but a blot," she said.

"You feel that you want to fly - the joy of seeing that your care made a difference."

At 18, Dr Rai, was inspired by the story of Florence Nightingale to take up nursing but said her true role models were her parents, who have both died. Her father taught her that anyone could help at any time and helping others did not require a lot of effort. She modelled herself after that belief.

Nursing has given her the structure to assist others in a meaningful way, she said.

Dr Rai, who is single, started working in an intensive care unit after her general nursing training. She furthered her studies in Canada and also worked there as a researcher at the Edmonton Centre for Survivors of Torture and Trauma.

She then joined the Women's Education for Advancement and Empowerment as a coordinator in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and later worked on a project that aided the health of repatriated refugees from the Thai-Myanmar border back to Myanmar.

The ICN is recognising her exceptional work internationally in the health of women and refugees.

"I feel really humbled," she said.

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

The award is given to a mid-career practicing nurse who is influencing nursing at the international level.

Dr Rai will be presented the award at the ICN Conference on June 21 in Seoul, South Korea.

This article was first published on Apr 2, 2015.
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