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Putting Patients First

If you are looking for a meaningful career that puts people at the centre of what you do, look no further than nursing. Audrey Tham made the decision to be a nurse many years ago, and it has fulfilled her aspirations professionally and personally.

Audrey Tham, a Healthcare Merit Award recipient, provides patient care and mentors her juniors as a Senior Staff Nurse at Sengkang General Hospital. She holds a Bachelor of Science (Nursing) (Honours) from National University of Singapore and an Advanced Diploma in Medical-Surgical Nursing from Nanyang Polytechnic.

In these challenging times, the dedication and commitment of nurses has never been more exemplified. Indeed, they are instrumental in the fight against Covid-19 and in helping to bring patients back to the pink of health.

But beyond the care and compassion that we typically associate with them, nurses are highly-skilled professionals who have a diverse set of responsibilities. Apart from managing patient care, nurses need to conduct basic health assessment, train caregivers and educate the public on health-related matters, to name just a few of their many commitments.

The nature of the profession and the diverse opportunities it offers have attracted many to nursing. Like her peers, Audrey Tham, found nursing a calling and has since embarked on a meaningful career in Singapore’s healthcare sector.

We caught up with the Senior Staff Nurse at Sengkang General Hospital, who gave us an insider’s perspective on her profession as well as her hopes and aspirations.

You have been in nursing for close to five years. Looking back, how did you get interested in your current field?

I have always desired to work in the healthcare industry since I was little, as I wanted a job that was meaningful. I went to a number of career exhibitions and speaking to the nurses in those booths made me more interested in nursing. They had so much enthusiasm and positivity! After giving it serious thought, I realised that I’m more interested in a career that involves closer patient care, rather than one that treats and go. From there, I decided that nursing was the right path for me and took a leap of faith.

You then went on to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. How was the transition from theory to practical application upon graduation?

It wasn’t difficult, as we consistently had clinical attachments throughout the four years of study. There was also a Healthcare Orientation Programme (HOP) and intensive clinical attachment within the SingHealth cluster just before graduation. The HOP was a useful experience as it allowed us to interact with scholars from other hospitals and clusters, which gave me an insight into the practices and cultures at the different organisations. I also feel that the nursing course as well as exams and assessments throughout the programme prepared us for practical application once we started work, so it can be very manageable as long as you’re willing to learn along the way.

Audrey Tham
You are now a Senior Staff Nurse at Sengkang General Hospital. Tell us more about your role and responsibilities.

Generally, senior nurses are overall in charge of the running of the ward, ensuring that everyone on shift that day can manage their workload and handle any unforeseen situations.

Our daily work involves managing the care of the patients assigned to us, such as serving medications, helping with their daily living activities, coordinating care among the different medical specialities and allied health professions, and attending to all care needs and patient concerns.

As a Senior Staff Nurse, I also guide our colleagues and doctors when there are procedures or protocols that they are unsure of. Similarly, I am a preceptor and mentor to new nurses or students in the ward during my shift. It is important to set a good example in the way we do our work and uphold a high standard of care in the ward.

Tell us more about being a preceptor and mentor. How do you guide new or student nurses as they join your ward?

I try to be as detailed and hands-on as possible. For instance, I would explain the steps and rationale for every procedure, and then show them the proper way of performing them. Initially, I would bring them along for every task that I’m going to perform, but once they are more proficient, I would allow them to work more independently, providing only distant supervision and checking in with them periodically. While guiding them, I would also be more conscious of my own work, reminding myself to perform tasks the proper way.

We understand that there are many career pathways available for nurses. What are they, and what is the pathway you have chosen?

There are many tracks available for nurses, in the areas of research, education, management, clinical nursing, informatics, etc. The tracks also branch further into specialist roles. For instance in clinical nursing, you can be an Advanced Practice Nurse, or a Specialty Care Nurse. For me, I’m currently focusing on my role as Senior Staff Nurse. I’ll be assigned to a new ward soon and I’m looking forward to the challenge. In future, I hope to step into a nursing management or clinician role. I believe this track is most suitable for me, as I enjoy the patient contact environment and guiding newer nurses.

What other growth and development opportunities are available for nurses?

There are a number of committees that nurses can join. These include research projects, quality improvement projects, focus workgroups, informatics liaison committees, and so on.

We also attend short courses or workshops where we learn how to handle patients with a specific type of injury better, or seminars such as the SingHealth Research Congress that allows nurses to get to know counterparts from other hospitals.

The healthcare sector also supports us in our further studies. Speaking of which, I’m glad to share that I have just completed my Advanced Diploma in Medical-Surgical Nursing from Nanyang Polytechnic!

“As with all jobs, challenges are bound to surface during work. In nursing, these challenges could be physically, emotionally and mentally difficult all at the same time. When the going gets tough, always remind yourself why you had chosen this path and let your passion drive you.”Audrey Tham
Why did you choose to take up this advanced diploma and how will it support you in your role?

Taking up this course involves in-depth learning into the subject matter which will help me understand my work better. It will also increase my knowledge about the medical conditions and treatment of different patients.

I chose the medical-surgical route as I have worked in both medical and surgical wards previously, and I enjoy this area of speciality. Apart from gaining more knowledge in this field, I believe it would help me be a better resource person for the ward as a senior.

What advice would you give to people looking to embark on a career in nursing?

First and foremost, you must have the passion and desire to care for patients. As with all jobs, challenges are bound to surface during work. In nursing, these challenges could be physically, emotionally and mentally difficult all at the same time. When the going gets tough, always remind yourself why you had chosen this path and let your passion drive you.

Nursing will be an ideal career if you are open to growth opportunities or environmental changes. There are many opportunities and career tracks in nursing, which will help you grow professionally in more ways than one.

This article was first published in BrightSparks Magazine July 2021. Republished with permission from CareerBuilder Singapore.