Government: Hard to get SG locals to become nurse

By TR Emeritus

According to latest data released by the Manpower Ministry (MOM) on Tuesday (27 Jan), registered nurses and shop sales assistants were the toughest positions to fill by locals.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong

Overall, the number of job vacancies rose to 67,400 as of September 2014. This is an 8.9% increase from 61,900 in the corresponding period in 2013.

Of the vacancies, service and sales workers were in keen demand, representing 25% of total vacancies, or 15,330. The positions included shop sales assistants, security guards and waiters.

In terms of PMETs, registered nurse was in top spot for occupations hard to fill by locals. There were 720 vacancies as at September 2014, with the top reason cited being too much competition from other employers.

As for non-PMET positions, shop sales assistants, security guard and waiter were the top three occupations that were hard to fill by locals, MOM said.

Recruiting cheap nurses from 3rd world countries depresses local salaries

To address the issue, instead of raising the salaries of nurses so as to attract more locals to take up this profession, Ministry of Health (MOH) has been dishing out “scholarships” overseas to attract foreigners to work in Singapore as nurses.

For example, the following scholarship advertisement was posted on Anhui Medical College in China last year [Link]:

The scholarship programme offers full scholarships to Chinese students to go to Singapore to study nursing. It said that the purpose is to “strengthen the bilateral friendship” and “expand educational exchanges” between China and Singapore.

“All public hospitals in Singapore have our students working there,” Anhui Medical College proudly proclaimed.

The PRC scholar will be bonded for 6 years after his or her studies in nursing at Nanyang or Ngee Ann Polytechnic. He or she will be assigned to work at any of the Singapore public hospitals. It stated that starting salary is S$1,500 rising to more than S$2,000 (i.e, more than CNY10,000).

Without doubt, importing more foreigners to work in Singapore as nurses will further depress the salaries of our local nurses, thereby, turning away more locals from pursuing nursing. It becomes a vicious cycle.

What a Singaporean nurse working in Australia said

Here is what a Singaporean nurse said in her blog [Link], comparing her nursing job in Australia vs that in Singapore. She has since emigrated to Perth. She described her situation when she was working as a nurse in Singapore:

“I remember when I 1st joined nursing, my basic pay was $1.5k. Add in the shift allowance, minus the CPF deductions, I bring home between $1.3k to $1.5k. We often have to stay back to finish up the work (not paid) & get 1 day off a week. I hated the days where I had an afternoon shift followed by morning shift. While the afternoon shift ends at 9 pm, I don’t exactly leave at that time. So by the time I got home, it would be just before midnight & I have to be at work by 7 am the next day. Perhaps it was the long & irregular hours & the precious 1 day off per week that earning $1.5k a month was sufficient. Of course, I was still living with my parents & the only bills I paid were mobile & internet bills. Some weeks we go for 12 days before a day off. Off on a Monday on week 1 then Sunday on week 2. I hated working in the ward. So I applied, appealed & re-appealed to be transferred to the operating theatre.

Working in theatre means I get $250 theatre allowance. I still got shift allowance as I had to do morning, afternoon & on call. Then, I hated being on call coz I had to work from 11 am to 10 am the next day. More often than not, I had to work throughout the night. That’s 23 hours of work. While raking in overtime rates from 11 pm to 7 am, I’m not good with zero sleep. It’s a terrible system anyway coz surely we’re not safe when we’re sleep deprived & we’re dealing with human lives here. With the extra income, I probably was bringing home between $1.8k to $1.9k a month. I wondered how did I ever survive on a $1.3k salary.

Fast forward to recent years. I became a Senior Staff Nurse & my basic pay in my last job was $3.3k. Theatre allowance was still $250 despite it being 10 years later. My net pay was slightly below $3k. But I couldn’t save at all. Of course, by now, I had to support not just myself but my parents too. By the time I’m done paying bills & living expenses, I can barely save $200 a month.”

Then coming to Australia to work as a nurse in Perth, her pay doubled and most important of all, she is now working between 20 to 30 hours less a week:

“I work lesser hours than I did in SG, between 20 to 30 hours lesser a week. But I’m netting almost twice my salary in SG. While I have to send $1k back to SG every month, I still manage to save at least $1760 a month. It’s so precise coz $1k comes from me & hubs transfers $430 to me every fortnight when he gets his pay for rent (our weekly rent is $430 you see).”

She also told TRE that it’s not just the pay is better in Australia but also the working environment. She said:

“It’s not just the pay. It’s the treatment of nurses by doctors & the public. There’s a lot of verbal abuse that we’re suffer. We’re expected to be efficient despite being severely overworked (in Singapore).

In WA (Western Australia), nurse to patient ratio in the ward is 1:5 maximum. I used to have 18 patients under my charge & up to 25 on night shifts in Sg. While I have another RN, she’s the medication nurse & doesn’t follow up changes. That was more than 10 years ago. Not sure about the current situation in the wards. But it certainly put me off working in the wards for the rest of my nursing life in Sg.”


Coming back to the cry from Singapore government that it’s hard to get Singaporeans to become a nurse, perhaps Health Minister Gan Kim Yong may want to ponder over these 3 facts:

  1. Poor pay to Singaporeans but not to FTs
  2. Long working hours without family life
  3. Lousy working environment

Does Mr Gan’s daughters want to become a nurse in Singapore?

What do you think?

This post was first published on TR Emeritus

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