Alice Phua Mui Liang is the Director of Nursing at St Luke’s Hospital, where she leads the Nursing Department with a staff strength of 247.
It was sometime during the start of work with Singapore General Hospital (SGH) that Alice felt the spark of passion for nursing. She vividly recalled the moment and exclaimed: “nursing is unique!” Moving from classroom-based theories to practicum, Alice found affirmation in her calling as a nurse.
Seeking a profession that revolved around helping others, Alice realised that nursing is the highly relational career for her: serving, loving and healing those in need. She expanded in her chosen profession, and stayed with SGH for more than 20 years before she moved to a short stint in private healthcare. She also was a lecturer with ITE Nursing, guiding the footsteps of newer nurses as they began their careers.
This love proved to be her guiding light as she rose through the ranks to her current position as Director of Nursing at St Luke’s Hospital. With over four decades of nursing experience, she leads the Nursing Department at St Luke’s Hospital, planning budgets, implementing initiatives and seeing to staff and patient well-being.
Care and Comfort for All
In essence and in truth, Alice is both a nurse and a director of nurses.
Like other nurses, Alice interacts with patients, and spends time in the ward every day. “I speak to the patients and my nurses, I make sure everything is ok,” she said. “I listen and share whenever I can.”
The key difference between a “nurse” and a “nursing director” is that nurses prioritise their work and patient conditions to help patients directly. A director looks at the bigger picture of the nursing department as a whole. People-management is vital as she manages various teams (such as a team of nurse managers, and a team of nurse educators).
Alice is now also a carer for her staff, as she ensures continued care for her patients.
“My nurses know that my door is always open,” she said. Alice embraces an accepting, communicative relationship with all her nurses, believing that mutual understanding is key to successful teamwork.
This means her work style and the skillsets required for her job are different from those of a junior healthcare worker. Communication skills, leadership abilities, and an open heart that accepts many different points of view are vital to working with the many parties involved in hospital work.
Similarly, perspective-taking is also important in the wards – something that Alice conveys to her nurses. Alice takes great effort to coach her nurses on how to interact effectively with patients.
“All patients come in with a health condition. Some may have lost their health or a limb, some may also be facing family or financial challenges. They may not be in a good mood. We should be understanding and professional in our work. Over time, they will feel our love and concern.” Being able to foster a trusting relationship can lead patients to heed nursing advice, which ultimately helps the patients to achieve better health outcomes – the end-point that all nurses wish to see.
In the nursing profession, the rewards are many. Alice smiled as she recalled the hug and thanks given by the daughter of an elderly patient during discharge. They were thankful Alice and her nurses took the time to understand them. Their efforts culminated in a calm and composed patient who had confidence in the staff of St Luke’s Hospital. Behind that single moment of gratitude lies hours of hard work, discussion, and feedback between Alice and her team – but it’s all worth it for the patient.
“Such intangible moments are what makes nursing worthwhile,” Alice mused.
Constant pursuit of excellence
While her passion for helping others and innate management ability have helped Alice succeed at work, further study helped too. She pursued a Bachelor of Nursing from the University of Sydney through what was then UniSIM.
“I had been in the nursing profession for sixteen years when I pursued my degree,” she recalled. She readily embraced the ethos of “lifelong learning” and shared what she learnt in class with some of her younger nurses. “I am like their mother hen,” she laughed, as she recalled how they continued to take care of each other both in and outside the hospital setting.
She particularly enjoyed one module, Nursing Management, as it helped her identify what she was doing right or wrong in staff communication.
“I was able to reflect on management issues, and examples I experienced in the ward. These helped me relate better to the module. As I studied, I would think back and say to myself, ‘oh, this is what I was doing!’ That was very exciting for me.”
A career for those with maturity
For those looking to pursue a career in nursing, Alice highlighted maturity as a pre-requisite. “Nursing is a lot of hard work, if [prospective students] have the maturity and the right heart – then they will find the role very, very enjoyable,” she described frankly, looking back at how others had quit due to the stress of shift work and a heavy course-load.
She offered some pertinent career advice. “Be open to feedback and reflect on it,” counselled Alice. “And be grateful for the people who give feedback – because it means they haven’t given up on you.”
For sure, the Department of Nursing at St Luke’s Hospital continues to be in good hands, with Alice and her dedicated team of staff.
A Silent, Strong Supporter
Alice is very proud of her nurses, and it shows. She often nominates them for awards and promotions. One of her nurses was recently nominated for the National Day Merit Award, and was filled with joyful surprise to find out what Alice did for her!