Nurse mother to kampung dwellers

Nurse mother to kampung dwellers
Mrs Tan Phaik Imm moved from Penang to Singapore to be with her husband in 1957 and worked in a maternity and child health clinic near West Coast Road. She braved floods and walked long distances to far-flung kampungs to care for the families there.

As a nurse in the 1960s, Mrs Tan Phaik Imm trudged up dirt tracks into Singapore kampungs to check on mothers and their newborn babies, and to give the babies immunisation shots.

She also advised wives to use contraceptives during Singapore's "Two is Enough" family planning campaign, which sometimes led to hilarious results as some couples were clueless as to how to use a condom.

Now 81, Mrs Tan, who was the chief nurse in primary health care from 1983 to 1990, also tells Goh Chin Lianhow she kept going at her job for nearly 40 years.

Why did you join nursing?

I wanted to get out of the house. I was living in Penang and my mother had died when I was 11/2 years old. I was the youngest of three children. My father remarried a widow who brought with her five children.

My stepmother was cruel to me and my sister during the Japanese Occupation. Rice was rationed. In my family, only the boys ate rice. The girls ate sweet potatoes and porridge.

When I finished secondary school at 16, my father wanted me to train in midwifery, to help my stepmother, who was a midwife.

My brother told me: "You'd be a slave to them. Your money would go to your stepmother."

With nurse training, I'd get a place to stay in the hospital quarters, he said. With other types of work, I'd still have to go home.

What was the training like?

I did general nursing for three years and four months, followed by midwifery for a year.

In general nursing, we did shift duty: 6am to 2pm, 2pm to 9pm, or 9pm to 6am.

We did 14 nights straight, then five days off. We were obedient. They set the routine, we followed.

Why did you come to Singapore to work?

Because of my husband, who was a friend of my colleague.

I met him in 1954, when I came to Singapore for a holiday. After that, we wrote to each other. Practically every day I received a letter from him. After two years, he came to Penang and asked my father for my hand in marriage. In 1957, I resigned from my job and came to Singapore.

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