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Leading with passion and heart

CGH Chief Nurse (Advanced Practice Nurse) Ms Png Gek Kheng (second from left) receiving the President’s Award for Nurses 2022 from President Halimah Yacob, accompanied by Minister for Health Mr Ong Ye Kung (far left), and Ministry of Health Chief Nursing Officer Ms Paulin Koh (far right). Photo: Ministry of Health

President’s Award for Nurses 2022 recipient Png Gek Kheng is a zealous learner, listener, strategic planner and passionate practitioner who rose through the ranks to become the Chief Nurse of Changi General Hospital (CGH). Her dedication to evidence-based practices and enduring efforts in advocating the discovery and translation of novel nursing theories to clinical practice have enhanced patient care outcomes and enabled the progression of the nursing profession.

Nurses are the backbone of our healthcare system as they provide care round the clock and best understand the needs and habits of patients. With over 2,500 nurses under her care, Ms Png took on the reins of the CGH nursing leadership in a time of unprecedented challenges — the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the highly volatile situation, she actively led nursing operations and rallied the team through innumerable recalibrations and reconfigurations to deliver the best possible care to patients while keeping healthcare colleagues safe.

When swab operations and medical posts at the migrant dormitories had to be set up, Ms Png went down to the sites daily to ensure a safe environment for her healthcare colleagues. “With little knowledge of the virus then, the uncertainty and apprehension was very real,” recounts Ms Png. “In deploying nursing resources, I prepared them for the possible scenarios they may face and dispelled their doubts as best as I could.”

Innovating healthcare for tomorrow

With nearly 30 years of nursing experience, Ms Png, who is an Advanced Practice Nurse (APN), continues in her clinical practice on top of her other duties. Given her passion for geriatric nursing, it is no surprise that she has spearheaded hospital-wide improvement initiatives over the years, including the care of patients with dementia, urinary incontinence and chronic wounds such as pressure injuries, as well as caregiver training and advanced care planning.

Ms Png (centre) is dedicated to the progression of the nursing profession.

To increase awareness and competency in managing pressure injuries, and aid the rehabilitation of patients, Ms Png set up the Pressure Injury Taskforce at CGH 10 years ago. This foresight in addressing the specific needs of the ageing population with increasing chronic diseases, and her dedication in building clinical expertise in wound management culminated in the establishment of the CGH Wound Healing Centre (WHC) in 2021. It is the first-of-its-kind one-stop multi-disciplinary centre that provides early interventions and specialises in outpatient treatment of chronic wounds. As the co-director of the WHC, she plans to work with community hospitals and nursing homes to identify patients with chronic wound symptoms for early detection and treatment.

“Research, innovation and education are imperative in driving evidence-based practices to enhance the way we deliver care,” says Ms Png. To nurture nursing leaders as well as encourage digital transformation and the future-proofing of nursing skills, Ms Png steered the development of a Nursing Innovation Pathway at CGH.

Ms Png with social robot Pepper, conducting interactive group activities for senior patients at CGH.

Enhancing health outcomes of older adults

For its commitment to providing quality geriatric care, including the completion of The Integrated Building (IB) in 2014, CGH has been recognised by the University of New York as one of the Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders (NICHE)-affiliated hospitals in Singapore. The NICHE programme recognises achievements in nurse-led improvements in the care of seniors, and aims to enhance nurses’ knowledge and skills to improve the health outcomes of older adults. The IB adopts a sustainable and adaptive multi-disciplinary model that supports senior patients in optimising their function and mobility in a seamless healing and rehabilitation environment, aiding their transition from hospital to home or in the community.

Ms Png works with a multi-discplinary care team at the CGH Wound Healing Centre to provide holistic one-stop care for patients.

Ms Png and the multi-disciplinary nursing steering committee actively drive initiatives on geriatric care outreach, expanding to CGH’s partner nursing homes in the East as part of the Enhancing Advance Care Planning, Geriatric Care and End of Life Care in the Eastern Region (EAGLECare) programme. The team also advocates for advanced care planning and plays a part as facilitators in enhancing the care of older adults. In addition, Ms Png is involved in establishing the Geriatric Competency Framework by the Ministry of Health.

Transforming knowledge into strength

Ms Png started out as a junior nurse in the medical ward at the former Toa Payoh Hospital, and continued with her post-basic Nursing education (the equivalent of today’s Post-Diploma) in her first step towards geriatric nursing. As a staff nurse in the geriatric ward of the former Changi Hospital, Ms Png was involved in building nursing competencies and establishing the standards of geriatric care.

Ms Png’s diverse experiences at various clinical attachments guided her as she advanced in her career. “It dawned on me that to make changes or progress, I must listen first and understand the various perspectives before I can propose any suggestions or offer direction and guidance,” says Ms Png. “This principle has helped me grow significantly in my nursing career.”

In 2003, Ms Png pursued her Bachelor’s degree in Nursing, and later went on to take the APN course, completing her Master of Nursing and further strengthening her clinical knowledge and skills.

Training and mentorship are important building blocks in empowering nurses.

Going the extra mile with compassion and care

Nurses today provide holistic care and treatment, and support the community in keeping well and staying healthy at home. They provide valuable inputs for integrated treatment care and discharge plans, advocate for patients and educate caregivers. “It is not uncommon to come across patients who are upset. At first glance, it may appear that they are throwing a tantrum, but upon deeper conversations with the nurses, it may be traced to issues such as not being able to eat. For example, with a little creativity from our nurses and agreement from patients with cancer of the oesophagus, we introduced minced food for their chewing so they could have a taste of the food they had once loved. This made a big impact on patients’ moods,” explains Ms Png.

A caregiver who has known Ms Png for four years, Mdm Tang Mei Kuen, shares, “Ms Png was very passionate and proficient in her care for my late mother, who had pressure ulcers due to her illness and immobility. With her deep knowledge of pressure injuries, Ms Png helped me understand the importance and necessity of caregiver education for the continuity of care. She explained the various stages of these chronic wounds, and demonstrated every step in managing my mother’s chronic wound at home. Through her care, the wound healed after eight months, and until today, Ms Png and I continue to keep in contact.”

Ms Png’s vision is for nurses to be empowered to acquire skills that can benefit patients in a timely manner. Training and mentorship are important building blocks in this journey, as Ms Png continues to work towards bringing about nursing excellence. “Leaders provide support, encouragement and motivation to keep staff morale up. It is important to build trust and respect,” says Ms Png.

CGH Nurse Clinician Wang Ping is one of the nurses Ms Png has mentored. “Ms Png shared her nursing experiences, as well as the challenging cases that she has seen,” she says. “For example, she explained how she successfully treated a severe pressure injury where the deeper tissues were visible, and provided advice on managing such injuries. I also benefitted from Ms Png’s insights on leadership, advice on work-life balance and tips on achieving my career aspirations.”

To unwind, Ms Png listens to opera soundtracks and sings along to music whenever she is driving. “This has also inspired me when I wrote scripts for plays in the past!” With a love for the theatrical arts and acting since young, Ms Png is quite a thespian herself — having produced and acted in witty and fun skits over the years.

With a love for the theatrical arts, Ms Png has acted in many skits over the years.

Leading with passion and heart