'We are humans too': S'pore nurses share their views on stretched manpower, salary & recognition

Soft truths to keep Singapore from stalling.

Fasiha Nazren | Syahindah Ishak | May 31, 2020, 05:38 PM

IN CONVERSATION WITH: We speak to three nurses in Singapore to hear their thoughts on what the past few months have been like, the challenges they have been facing, and how members of the public can show appreciation to frontliners in Singapore.

For a lot of nurses, their career is said to be the call to nurture.

Mark (not his real name), for example, has always had a love for caring and building relationships. Which is why he has been a nurse for close to 10 years now.

But lately, things haven't been easy.

Stigma against nurses

Nurses across Singapore have put themselves at risk in their struggling to fight the battle against Covid-19.

Some have been infected as well.

On top of the major health risk, a number of nurses had also experienced instances of discrimination from members of the public.

Some held the mistaken belief that these nurses, having been exposed to the virus daily, must surely be contaminated.



In response to this, an online petition was set up in an attempt to gather support and defend the nurses. It had over 38,000 signatures as of 1pm on May 30.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Health (MOH), Amrin Amin, had also come out to make a public statement on this matter.

Amrin expressed his disappointment in these "unfortunate incidents" and urged Singaporeans to instead show their support for the frontline workers.

Stretched manpower

The discrimination certainly didn't help with the already-present stress from the nurses' daily work.

Speaking to Mothership, Mark explained that he has been on rotational shift since the pandemic, averaging about 40 hours per week.

However, Mark also shared that the manpower has significantly shrunk as one-fifth of the staff have been deployed to:

  • Isolation wards
  • Community Isolation Facilities (CIF)
  • Foreign worker dormitories

Despite the usual working hours, he said that he is feeling "a little tired out" as he has been making up for the lack of manpower, which is becoming increasingly stretched.

Another nurse we spoke to, Sarah (not her real name), also admits that the pressure has gotten to her lately, with only around eight to nine nurses managing 40 patients at the ward she works in.

And like Mark, the reduced manpower has taken a toll on her too.

This concern is an ongoing one, though

Since the number of Covid-19 cases in the country began to spike in early April, questions were raised about Singapore's healthcare capacity and whether Singapore had sufficient capabilities to combat this pandemic.

On May 14, there was an open recruitment calling for more people to step up for the fight against the virus.

The Health Promotion Board (HPB), the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), and the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) were looking to hire thousands of swabbers and swab assistants.

According to the job application form, individuals who are hired as swab assistants will earn a monthly salary of S$3,400, while those who are converted to swabbers will earn S$3,800 a month.

Soon after the recruitment exercise was publicised, questions were raised about the discrepancy in pay for these part-time positions as compared to standard industry remuneration for healthcare professionals with the requisite nursing background.

Nurses aren't paid enough

While some have vocally expressed their disappointment, Mark shared that he appreciates the government for being "very generous" for providing employment opportunities to unemployed Singaporeans.

Sarah is also in agreement, saying that the swabbers' jobs are "high-risk". Therefore, she feels it is reasonable to factor this into the compensation framework.

But that's not to say that they agree with the amount given. In fact, they think it is unfair for nurses in Singapore.

Mark told us:

"With proper training in infection control, the volunteers are overpaid to perform this single task. This amount is unjust to nurses. Many nurses who have volunteered in their institutions have been deployed to dormitories and CIFs. Yet, many do not even take home S$3,800."

According to MOH, registered nurses are paid between S$3,300 and S$5,200 monthly.

To be classified as a registered nurse, one must have attained at least one of the following qualifications from MOH-recognised institutions:

  • Diploma in Nursing / Diploma in Health Sciences (Nursing)
  • Accelerated Diploma in Nursing
  • Degree in Nursing

Sarah and Jasmine (not her real name) are both registered nurses, who revealed that they received a starting pay of S$1,800 with their diploma qualifications.

Mark, also a registered nurse, was a degree holder when he started his full-time nursing job, and his first full take-home pay was S$2,400.

Mothership understands that these figures do not include any bonus or allowance.

"I know a lot of people think we're being money-minded," Jasmine said. However, she explained that the demands of the job is not for just anybody, with many of her colleagues putting in extra hours as well.

"I go for days without break more often than I have days with breaks... Some days, I find it difficult to find time just to go to the toilet. It’s insane. If you’re on morning shift, you can forget about going home on time. I clock about two hours of overtime each morning shift, and almost an hour of overtime for afternoon and night shifts."

Recognising nurses for their hard work

While members of the public have been showing the frontline staff recognition through rounds of claps and discounts offered by F&B or retail outlets, Mark feels that these initiatives are "temporal and easily forgotten".

Instead, he hopes that nurses can be recognised through monetary terms.

"While the role of a nurse is altruistic in nature, it does not mean that the pay can be conservatively kept low with sporadic pay revisions just to keep the population's healthcare costs low."

He also shared that shift work involves great sacrifices that "deserves recognition".

"Shift work is another sacrifice that deserves recognition and adequate salary revision. Shift allowances average to about S$300 per month. The sacrificial care given to patients disrupts our sleep/wake cycle, sacrifices our own rest, or the precious nurturing time at home needed for children and for spouses or ageing parents. Shift allowances are not equitable and have not been adequately revised with inflation to attract and retain nurses in a role which requires substantial social sacrifices."

Singaporeans can be kinder to healthcare workers

For Jasmine, it goes beyond fair compensation; she feels that Singaporeans can be kinder to healthcare workers.

Based on her own experiences and observations, she told us that nurses frequently get hurled expletives, or encounter angry patients who try to punch them because they want to go home.

Sometimes, they even get food thrown at them.

"It sounds ridiculous, but all I'm asking for is some compassion and appreciation. We are humans too. We understand sarcasm and we can get our feelings hurt just the same," Jasmine added.

For now, however, these nurses are responding their call to nurture to the best of their abilities.

"I do (the job) because I know my patients need me. Mentally, I know I’m not doing too well. But I know my colleagues are facing the same thing and I keep reminding myself that during a pandemic, the world needs us most."

Top image from Singapore General Hospital/FB.