Q. Hi, Sister Santhi, it’s good to hear that SNEC has a programme for Asian nursing students. How was this programme developed?
A. The Asian Nursing Scholarship was set up in 1994 by Ministry of Health (MOH) to help sponsor about 200 ASEAN students each year to come study nursing diploma or degree in Singapore. Upon completion, these nurses are required to serve their bonds prior to returning to their homeland. But some would hopefully, also stay in Singapore to help supplement our local nursing force. In 2021, MOH encouraged these students to spend part of their term break at SNEC to have further exposure and training into this subspecialty.
Q. How popular is this programme?
A. Asian Nursing Scholarship programme is popular as Singapore has a reputation of providing world-class patient care. But this is the first time for SNEC to be offered candidates without a waiting list and the students have a good experience at Outpatient Department. In 2021, we had 5 students posted to us for a 2-month period.
Q. What has been the staff response to having these students in their midst?
A. The staff really enjoyed having the students. We have not had the opportunity to host nursing students in the past, so it was quite a new experience. I think nursing students are often an overlooked resource, and they were really helpful during the pandemic as they also helped to increase our manpower reserves.
Q. What sorts of exposure did they get?
A. They helped to take care of our patients in our triage area, emergency department, clinics and operating rooms. The students learnt how to check visual acuity, measure eye pressure, interpret eye medical charts, understand treatment plans, and handle patients in clinic and theatre. You know we have 10 subspecialties in ophthalmology and a large array of instruments and test which we use to test visual function and image the eye. While here, the students are embedded into the nursing teams using a buddy system and helped the nursing team while learning about ophthalmology at the same time. I think this hands-on experience is very useful to provide not only the technical but also soft skills like how to work in a team, caring for and communicating with patients and their families.
Q. How did your trainers cope during the process?
A. Training takes time and perseverance on top of the nurses’ current duties. However, I think our nursing buddies rose to the challenge, mentoring them so they could deliver a high standard of service. Of course, the students also did their part, and we encouraged them to take responsibility for their own learning, work with their trainers to improve their knowledge and skills.
Q. What do you hope these students will take away from their 2 months stint at SNEC?
A. As subspecialty medical care gets so specialised, I think it is important that nurses get placed into these subspecialty units with formalised clinical learning environment so that they acquire the necessary competences. Of course, we hope after they have a ‘taste’ of ophthalmic nursing that they will decide to formally apply to our ophthalmic nursing programme. We really need to have a good pipe-line of nurses to help maintain a healthy nursing team and to replace our experienced but ageing workforce (laugh).
Q. Are there plans to continue to develop this programme?
A. The programme was developed to help students stuck in Singapore to spend their break more usefully, and to help supplement the workforce during the pandemic. Unfortunately, we are not sure if this programme will be continued, but we enjoyed the process and stand ready to provide nursing students with such term-break elective attachments as required.
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