Nurses form a critical pillar of support in Singapore’s healthcare system. They work tirelessly in hospitals to keep operations running like clockwork, and go beyond their duties to provide patients with quality care. While it is a trying profession, it is one that is noble and worthy of tremendous respect.
In our efforts to learn more about the priceless experience of nursing, we speak to Yong Keng Kwang, the Chief Nurse at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH). He tells us about his inspirational nursing journey and his vision for the future of Singapore’s healthcare sector.
Tell us about what inspired you to go into Nursing.
Yong Keng Kwang: Honestly, I had no idea what I wanted to do back when I was still in school. I was a triple science student and knew I wanted to pursue a healthcare-related career. So I looked around for scholarship opportunities, and found one that would allow me to eventually pursue a nursing career in the growing healthcare sector.
Tell us a little bit about what you do now.
Keng Kwang: I oversee the nursing division of TTSH, which is 3,400 healthcare professionals strong. I oversee everything from operations to strategic development to manpower development and training. Essentially, I work to improve the nursing profession by helping to plan and implement policies at a strategic level.
Yong Keng Kwang
Chief Nurse, Tan Tock Seng Hospital
What are some challenges you have faced at work?
Keng Kwang: During my first year, I realised that nursing is both an art and a science. You need the knowledge, expertise and hard data to perform your roles, but you also need to master the art of connecting with people. I must admit I struggled a little in mastering this art. I was a generally introverted individual and was unsure about connecting with people. But all it takes is the conscious effort to try – I eventually got used to the idea of dealing with people after some clinical attachments. Looking back now, I cannot imagine my life going any other way.
My challenges and experiences as a nurse have really helped me to grow as a person. The profession has allowed me to change the lenses from which I used to view the world. I have certainly learnt to see patients as people who are vulnerable and need our care and support.
What is one particularly memorable episode during your nursing career?
Keng Kwang: I remember this one male patient covered with many large tattoos. I had a bad experience once with gangsters, so I had an aversion to tattooed people. However, I knew that it was my duty as a nurse to take care of him. I made sure that I spent time attending to him, so much so that I might have overcompensated a little! On Chinese New Year, he actually gave me a red packet and told me he was grateful that I was there to help him. This incident has changed my perspective about tattooed individuals tremendously!
As Chief Nurse, do you still interact directly with patients?
Keng Kwang: I’m no longer doing clinical practice, which is unfortunate because there are some parts of my old job that I miss. I still remember the sense of gratification I derived from seeing my patients improve, and when patients express their appreciation.
But back when I was on the ground, I also noticed that many things in our system needed improvement. Now that I have a much bigger influence, I am able to act as a voice on behalf of nurses in order to address some of these issues.
Can you elaborate on the things that you felt needed improvement?
Keng Kwang: There was this study we did around eight years ago which showed that only 10 per cent of working hours was spent on direct patient care. The rest of the time was spent on other administrative issues such as coordinating appointments, moving patients from one place to another, and transporting clinical equipment.
When I moved into management, I spent a lot of time doing quality improvements, such as removing system wastes to make things more efficient and transferring non-clinical responsibilities away from nurses.
Are there any notable projects you would like to talk about?
Keng Kwang: We’re currently improving on a “wards of the future” initiative we implemented. The vision of this initiative is to have decentralised nursing systems. In line with this initiative, phones and computers are to be placed all around the hospital for nurses to access easily.
This initiative really saves nurses a lot of time. Nurses used to walk an average of about eight kilometres for an eight hour shift. Today, that number has been brought down to around four kilometres! This has allowed nurses to spend less time walking and more time with patients.
Do you have any closing words for aspiring nurses or healthcare scholars?
Keng Kwang: If you find your way into nursing, it is highly likely that you would be spending a lifetime in it. So don’t lose your passion! It may be a very busy profession, but one in which you would certainly derive much meaning and fulfilment.