The heart of healthcare | Borneo Bulletin Online


Revathi Murugappan

ANN/THE STAR – Nurses play a vital role in healthcare.

Besides providing care and comfort to patients, they also communicate with doctors, administer medications, and even act as confidantes.

They are there to reduce the patient’s fear and discomfort; without them, healthcare systems would probably fall apart.

The world is facing an acute shortage of nurses and Malaysia is no exception.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), countries in the Southeast Asian region need 1.9 million more nurses and midwives to achieve health for all by 2030.

As there are many unresolved issues in the profession, including being overworked, underpaid and unappreciated, many find better career opportunities in other countries.

Keeping older nurses working is one way to help alleviate the nursing shortage.

For Sister Ng Siew Im, “real” retirement is not in the horizon.

ABOVE & BELOW: Jamilah Shamsuddin comforts a patient before she goes in for delivery; and Ng Siew Im teaching junior nurses the proper way to wash hands. PHOTOS: JAMILAH SHAMSUDDIN & NG SIEW IM

Her nursing career spans over 45 years, yet the 70-year-old refuses to call it a day.

She simply loves attending to patients and mentoring younger nurses.

“Everyone asks me when I want to retire, but I’m not ready yet!

“My doctor friends always tell me not to stay at home, but to go and work, and that’s what I’m doing.

“Nursing is a noble profession and it gives me great joy whenever I see sick patients admitted to the ward walking out happily after treatment,” said the senior nurse manager at a private hospital in Sungai Petani, Kedah, Malaysia.

Ironically, nursing was not Ng’s first career choice after she completed schooling.

She said, “I always wanted to be a teacher, but back then, I didn’t have the opportunity, so I applied for nursing school.

“There were only three schools (at that time) – in Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Johor Bahru; I got into the one in Penang.

“My student days were tough, but once I started working, I began to enjoy my job.”


Ng, who hails from Sungai Petani, has served in numerous government hospitals – all up north, close to home.

Her first posting was in Alor Setar Hospital before she was transferred to Langkawi two years later. She recalled, “It was a small hospital in Kuah and there was little to do on the island.

“I felt my mind was ‘rotting’ away so I asked for a transfer to Sungai Petani.

“All along, I worked in the operating theatre, but to advance in our career, we had to go for midwifery training and pass the exams.

“I did that and was sent to the labour room where I learnt to take care of mothers and newborns.”

Ng adds that in government hospitals then, all deliveries were conducted by midwives.

“We also suture the tears resulting from normal deliveries.

“The doctor only comes in during an emergency or a caesarean birth.”

While she felt immense joy when the baby popped out screaming, there were also times she was overcome with deep sadness.

“Once, a pregnant woman came in late, and due to prolonged labour, the baby came out blueish and flat (no heartbeat).

“Everybody hopes for a healthy baby and it’s very hard to tell the mother she lost her baby.

“The doctors will usually break the news because they have more medical knowledge,” she said.

After a year of seeing babies and mothers, Ng was sent back to be a scrub nurse in the operating theatre.

She assisted doctors in a variety of surgeries across medical specialities, including fixing fractures (orthopaedics), hysterectomy (gynaecology) and appendectomy (general surgery).

A couple of other transfers later, Ng retired from her final posting in Hospital Sultan Abdul Halim, Sungai Petani, in 2011.

At 58, she packed her belongings and bid adieu to civil service.

She “rested” for a while and did some locum work before joining her present employer.

Ng is in the infection control unit and her role, besides regular administrative duties, is to train other nurses and ensure the environment is always sanitised and clean.

She’s loving every bit of it.

“Physically I’m healthy, but at times, I’m mentally tired.

“I keep fit by walking 30 minutes daily.

“Before, I used to join fun runs, but I’ve cut down as I feel slight knee pain every time I jog,” said the singleton, who lives with her 92-year-old mother.

“I’m like a partial doctor in the family,” she shared, laughing.

“They consult me because I know what to do.”

If she had to pick a career all over again, Ng would still choose nursing.

“I’ve enjoyed my career and I’m learning something new every day while keeping updated with the medical field.

“It helps stimulate my mind and ward off many diseases associated with old age, especially now that I am old!

“It also helps keep me occupied and the bonus of having some extra income helps with my upkeep,” she shared.


Penangite Jamilah Shamsuddin, 66, is another nurse who can’t sit idle at home.

The bubbly midwife at a private hospital in Sungai Petani, cuts a warm, motherly figure.

“Actually, I applied to nursing school because I liked the uniform and cap – it’s so smart!

“Once I got in, I still remember taking an hour daily to iron the uniform using hot charcoal and starch,” she reveals, giggling.

Upon graduation, Jamilah did rotations in various departments at government hospitals, except in the labour room and operating theatre.

Like Ng, she attended midwifery training and assumed she would be posted to the labour room.

“Instead, the matron said she didn’t know where to place me as I had worked everywhere, so she sent me to the operating theatre.

“I was not happy because I wanted experience in the labour room, but I went anyway.

“It was a shock as I had never seen so many surgical instruments before!

“Day by day, I grew to enjoy my stint and eventually became a scrub nurse,” she shares.

Jamilah was serving in Hospital Kangar, Perlis, when her policeman husband suddenly suffered a heart attack and died, leaving her with three young children.

She was 40.

“Prior to his death, we had bought a house in Sungai Petani, so I asked for a transfer there.

“Sometime in 2006, I followed my friend to an open interview for nurses to work in Saudi Arabia.

“The offer was enticing, but there were too many forms to fill, so I set them aside.

“My friend went ahead and when she returned after two years, she said the working conditions were nice and the job paid well – three years of salary there would amount to 10 years here,” she said.

Jamilah then hunted for those application forms, went for another open interview and got the job.

She continued, “I decided to gamble and accept the offer, but didn’t tell anyone except one colleague.

“My mum agreed to look after my three kids who were 17, 15 and six.

“Since I was still attached to the government, I applied for three days leave and absconded!

“Within a week, I was on a plane to Riyadh.”

Over here, Jamilah’s name was still in the roster and for two years, she was marked “tidak hadir (absent)”.

Subsequently, she got a letter from the then Health director-general, notifying her that she was fired, but could file an appeal.

She didn’t.

Jamilah said, “Riyadh was quite an experience as the hospitals are sophisticated – a lot of items were brand new and dis-posable.

“I was put in the operating theatre.

“I treat the younger patients like my kids and the older ones like my parents.

“The Arab patients and their families will kiss your forehead to give thanks – I was initially taken aback, but the doctors told me that is how they show their appreciation.”

Needless to say, Jamilah’s forehead was planted with many kisses – something she fondly remembers.

She ended up staying in the Arab nation for seven years and returned home in 2014.

“I stayed home for two weeks and felt so bored cleaning house.

“I told myself I can’t do this every day so I went to work in a private hospital in Penang.

“Once my contract ended, I got this job – finally, I’m in the labour room because they desperately needed a midwife!” shares the doting grandmother of six.

She has no plans to retire, although her kids want her to.

“My two children are in Kuala Lumpur, while the youngest is in Penang, and they’re concerned I’m staying alone.

“They want me to stop working because I’ve got no time to visit them!

“If I have three days off, I will drive down to see them.

“In my time off, I prefer to stay home, read, do word-search puzzles or watch movies,” said the contented Jamilah.


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