Nurses eye bigger role in medical care and teaching

PHOTO: Nurses eye bigger role in medical care and teaching

SINGAPORE - While nurses welcomed news of higher pay yesterday, what many say they are really looking forward to is the bigger role they can play in medical care and teaching.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Health (MOH) revealed a revamp of the nursing profession, including pay increases of between 5 and 20 per cent in the next two years, to make it more attractive.

Among the changes recommended by the National Nursing Taskforce, nurses will also get help in taking on more roles.

Public health-care institutions will provide support for senior nurses who wish to teach, for instance, at polytechnics which offer nursing courses, in addition to taking care of patients. The Health Ministry will also work with these organisations to better facilitate flexi-work and part-time arrangements, which will also benefit nurses with children.

"The creation of more advanced nursing roles adds depth and offers opportunities to make nursing even more exciting," said National University Hospital director of nursing Catherine Koh.

One newly created post is that of assistant nurse clinician, which Changi General Hospital senior staff nurse Zarina Ahmad is hoping to take up. The role will put her on a leadership track and see her mentoring younger colleagues. "There's more empowerment," said the 40-year-old, who has been in nursing for around 20 years, of the new job.

Experienced senior nurses will also be allowed to diagnose and carry out treatments in certain situations, without first having to get the go-ahead from a doctor.

For instance, they will be able to order an X-ray to check if a feeding tube has been correctly inserted, or begin preventive action for a diagnosed schizophrenic with suicidal tendencies.

"Many of them are already competent to do some of these things," explained Mr Yong Keng Kwang, director of nursing at Tan Tock Seng Hospital. "But they couldn't before, because of certain restrictions."

Advanced practice nurse Karen Koh, 38, who is with National University Hospital's cardiac rehabilitation unit, believes the extra autonomy will allow her to make better use of her qualifications and experience. Said the master's degree holder: "We are trained, we have the capability, and we are there all the time, by the bedside."

Health economist Phua Kai Hong believes the revamp could see a "big surge of nurses in the public sector", and make it tougher for private health care. He suggested that the private sector may also raise wages.

linettel@sph.com.sg

This article was first published on Aug 7, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.