THE year was 1974. While most 16-year-olds had their noses buried deep in books in preparation for the GCE “O” Level examination, Chia Swee Khim had more than just exam stress on her mind.
Her 9-year-old sister lay critically ill in hospital after going through a major operation to remove a brain tumour. While her sister remained in intensive care, Madam Chia, who is now 58, saw how the nurses cared for her and the other patients with immense dedication and care. This inspired her to be a nurse.
Her sister survived the operation and lived until she was 37, but Madam Chia, who is a senior nurse manager at Changi General Hospital’s Isolation Ward, never forgot the pain of seeing her sister suffer nor the nurses who looked after her.
“I saw the nurses' dedication and commitment in caring for my sister and the critically-ill patients in the ICU… and I was inspired by them.”
Madam Chia joined the nursing profession in 1975 and worked at the Chronic Sick Home located at the Institute of Mental Health (then known as Woodbridge Hospital) as an enrolled nurse (EN) after graduation. After 2 years of working experience, she was selected to attend the nursing course at the School of Nursing in 1979 to become a registered nurse.
From 1981 to 1984, Madam Chia worked as a staff nurse at the Tan Tock Seng Hospital ICU. In 1986, she obtained her Advanced Diploma in Intensive Care Nursing and was posted to Toa Payoh Hospital (Toa Payoh Hospital merged with Old Changi Hospital in 1996 to form New Changi Hospital which was then renamed as the current Changi General Hospital). She managed the ICU for 22 years, and is an advocate for quality patient care through education, teaching and improvement projects.
“Working in the ICU allows me to contribute, and I can serve the patients,” she said.
Madam Chia demonstrated her leadership skills by taking on the role as a mentor to senior nurses who were subsequently promoted to managerial positions. Her succession planning skills enabled her to be transferred out of ICU to the general ward.
Madam Chia vividly remembers one patient who was suffering from Stage 4 colon cancer and had made a special request, while she was working in the general ward.
“His days were numbered. One day, he told me his wish to marry his childhood sweetheart. He requested to hold his marriage solemnisation in the ward as he was bedridden and unfit to be discharged from the hospital,” she said.
To fulfill her patient’s last wish, Madam Chia worked with CGH’s Corporate Affairs department colleagues to prepare and decorate a private room for the wedding solemnisation.
“The wedding solemnisation was conducted by a solemnisation officer from the Registry of Muslim Marriages. When the patient and his wife were pronounced man and wife, he was overjoyed.”
“That was a touching and memorable encounter,” she added.
Today, Madam Chia’s work at the CGH Isolation ward may be challenging but she loves every minute of it. She sees her job as an opportunity to give back to society.
While Madam Chia finds joy in her job, she also enjoys non work-related activities like spending time with her granddaughter or stretching it out with some yoga. Every week, the active senior practises yoga at the Mountbatten Community Club with her friends.
She has yet to master the handstand, but the cheerful senior enthusiastically shared that she is able touch her toes and do a full split. Madam Chia also embraces lifelong learning and intends to make use of her SkillsFuture Credit to learn new skills like baking. “I want to learn how to bake because my baking is very lousy!” she said with a laugh.
Madam Chia’s sister would have been 51 years old this year. Just as the memories of her sister are still strong, so is her love for nursing.
“The hospital is like my second home. When I see my patients recover and get discharged, I feel satisfied… it is very rewarding.”
This story is part of an 'Everyday Heroes' series. To read our previous story featuring Senior Staff Nurse Theresa Ee, a Diabetes Nurse Educator and Point-of-Care Testing Nurse Trainer from Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, click here.