Clinical instructor among 54 given Healthcare Humanity award

SINGAPORE - What started out as a practical joke turned into his career for life.

Mr Singaravelan Pavadai's nursing career began unexpectedly 30 years ago, when his younger sister, who had applied to be a nurse, also submitted an application on his behalf as a prank.

The clinical instructor with the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), who is better known as Mr Singa, has come a long way from his humble beginnings.

On Tuesday, he was one of 54 healthcare workers who received the prestigious Healthcare Humanity Award from President Tony Tan Keng Yam.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong also attended the function.

In an interview with The New Paper on Monday, the jovial 52-year-old bachelor said: "It was never my choice... My father wanted me to join nursing because he thought it was a calling - my sister who wanted to be a nurse didn't get in, but I did.

"The first day I went to nursing school, there were 200 girls and three boys."

Mr Singa, who was then 22 and working in a shipyard, took a massive pay cut - from $1,200 to $295 a month - when he switched professions in 1982.

But about three months into the course, he was emotionally moved during the practical training at a hospital, forging a special bond with a five-year-old boy who had a hole in his heart.

"He couldn't move much, but whenever I came into the room and called his name, he'd look up at me.

"About two months later, the bed was empty... I was holding back my tears.

"From that day onwards, I thought: This is my calling," he said.

After graduating, Mr Singa worked in private and public hospitals. In 1993 he joined IMH, where he learnt counselling techniques and how to manage patients with mental illnesses.

His dedication extends beyond the call of duty.

When the tsunami struck in 2004, Mr Singa said he was alone on holiday in Chennai, India, and offered psychological support to some victims and their families.

"I felt tremors the night before and thought it was an earthquake. The next morning, when I went down, the whole place was in a mess," he said.

Mr Singa took an auto-rickshaw from his hotel to the Marina beach about 3km away and spent hours comforting victims.

"Everywhere, people were frantic. I went to them and just sat with them. Some were hysterical, crying and screaming, so I went around and told them, 'the tsunami is over'."

Subdued armed man

Another time, on his day off, he helped subdue a man who was armed with an iron rod. The man appeared to be mentally unstable and had been loitering outside Mr Singa's Teck Whye flat.

"The man was shouting and talking to himself, and dragging the rod across the corridor.

"I went out of my flat to find out what was going on and alerted the police. Until the police came, I kept talking to him to distract him."

He said that when the police arrived, he also helped restrain the man.

Mr Singa inspires his younger counterparts.

Mr Warric Ng, 26, a psychiatric nurse in IMH for three years, said: "As new staff, we're unsure as we have not worked in mental wards before, but Mr Singa gives us more confidence in handling patients."

Ms Poh Chee Lien, assistant director of education and nursing training of IMH, said: "A true humanitarian, Mr Singaravelan's graciousness applies not only to individuals at the workplace, but also to the less fortunate in the community.

"His valuable contributions have made him an inspiration to fellow healthcare providers."

Mr Singa's direction, however, is simple: To ensure his patients get well.

"The best part is when patients get well and go back to their families. And when patients say thank you, it's a beautiful feeling.

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