SIA stewardess gives up high-flying job to care for elderly patients: Some patients, like passengers, can be difficult

Ms Sandra Goh felt the new job would allow her to spend more time with her two children, aged seven and four.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - For 14 years, Ms Sandra Goh was a glamorous Singapore Airlines (SIA) stewardess, serving passengers champagne and wine with their meals.

But when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and global travel came to a halt, the 40-year-old lead stewardess found herself grounded.

Today, she helps to look after patients, many of whom are senior citizens, at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH). She showers and feeds them, and sometimes has to change their diapers as well.

"People would previously look at me and go, 'oh, she's a stewardess'. Now... many people don't really know who we are," said Ms Goh, who traded the SIA sarong kebaya uniform for the polo tee shirt, black trousers and shoes worn by the hospital’s patient care executives.

Ms Goh's last flight was in mid-February last year, as Covid-19 numbers climbed.

From then until the end of March last year, she and many cabin crew members waited for the call to return to work.

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The Singapore Airlines Group - which comprises SIA, regional arm SilkAir and budget carrier Scoot - was forced to trim wages.

More than 6,000 of the 27,000 staff took no-pay leave of varying lengths, while another 1,700 employees or so, including ground staff, pilots and cabin crew, signed up for volunteer positions and jobs in external organisations.

Ms Goh was asked by SIA if she would be interested in joining a new care ambassador programme it had set up with KTPH.

Launched last April 7, the first day of the circuit breaker, the programme sees SIA Group cabin crew seconded to public hospitals.

"I always had this interest, but I never had the courage or opportunity to explore or pursue it further," she said, adding that she had previously worked part time at a general practitioner clinic.

Her first day on April 7 with 29 other SIA group crew at KTPH was not easy.

"We were not too sure what we were in for. We were told what the job scope was like, but we weren't really sure whether we could do it because most of us had not been in healthcare," she said.

The hospital assured them that they would be given training and taught the necessary infection control procedures.

After about 20 days of training, she was helping to care for in-patients, many of whom were elderly and could not have visitors at times due to pandemic restrictions.

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About four months into her role, Ms Goh was offered a permanent position.

This meant additional administrative and supervisory responsibilities on top of her duties as a care ambassador. She also had to quit SIA.

"It was difficult. I kept weighing the pros and cons, asking myself whether I'm making the right decision," said Ms Goh. Aside from leaving the glamorous life behind, she also had to take a pay cut.

But she decided to take the leap. She felt the new job would allow her to spend more time with her two children, aged seven and four.

She said she was aware of the challenges. Some patients, like passengers, can be difficult.

Ms Goh recalled an elderly patient who used to yell and hit her because his mental state had declined.

"It wasn't easy to take care of him," she admitted. But when the time came for the man to be transferred to another hospital, he cried and kept saying he did not want to leave.

"We had a relationship with him - like his grandchildren or godchildren. So when he cried, many of us cried with him," said Ms Goh.

"It's those little things - you know you made such a big difference, that while they were here, they felt taken care of and comforted... that's all I need from this job."

Ms Sandra Goh helps to look after patients, many of whom are senior citizens at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital. PHOTO: ST/Desmond Foo

She now shares her experience with new patient care officers to encourage them.

"I tell them I didn't have a healthcare background. I came in, I learnt and, with training, I could do the job. I tell them they can too."

She added: "This kind of teamwork (in healthcare), you don't find it elsewhere. The kind of satisfaction you get, you don't get it elsewhere.

"And I don't think any other job would make me feel so good about myself at the end of the day."

This article was first published in The Straits TimesPermission required for reproduction.