Since she was a teenager, Ms Sumathi Gunasundram knew she wanted to go into nursing.

Her deep-seated strength is rooted in care and compassion and she set her eyes on two fundamentals: service and the health industry.

Close family and friends initially discouraged her. She recalls: “They asked me, rather negatively, if I wanted to ‘clean up other people’ for the rest of my life. These condescending remarks upset me very much. But there were also many family members who were supportive of the idea, especially my father, mother and elder sister.”

After graduating from Catholic Junior College, the 20-year-old learnt the ropes at the Alice Lee Centre for Nursing Studies, part of the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine in the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Her first-term results put her in the upper academic bracket. She was on the Commendation’s List which is the top 10 per cent of the cohort. She also secured a scholarship with the National University Hospital (NUH) early this year. For the second semester, she attained grades averaging “A-” and got on the Commendation’s List again.

The top three NUH nursing scholars are presented with the gold, silver and bronze award certificate and Ms Sumathi received the silver medal.

Gen Y nurse

She believes she’s part of the “Generation Y” nurses, who represent the new nursing workforce. Gen Y nurses attain higher nursing qualifications yet have a genuine passion to serve the community.

“The modern nurse is a thinking nurse, and each one of us has limitless potential,” she says. “One of the key motivators is making a difference in the smallest of ways. I think what is so fulfilling in this profession is that nurses are at the frontline of care, right from helping with patients’ self-care and needs, to monitoring the progress of the clients’ recovery process, and being there for the family.

“The amount of opportunities for making a difference in the client’s life is abundant. I really believe it is the small things in life that speak large volumes, and is definitely a key factor for me.”

Like nursing role-model Florence Nightingale, a passion for community medical service makes the biggest difference for Ms Sumathi.

She says: “The willingness to learn is essential because no matter how far you climb along the stages of your profession, be it from novice or advanced stage, there has to be the humility and understanding that there’s still so much more to learn. These can help you grow further to be the best that you can be, so that you can help clients, colleagues, family and friends in any way possible. This just makes your learning possibilities infinite.”

Value-add principles

Over her nursing journey so far, she has learnt three value-add principles: Head, heart and hand.

She explains: “A strong ‘head’ over your shoulders is important — in order for you to make decisions, and the medical knowledge that you keep acquiring to help you in your decision-making, as well as to help educate clients about their condition, self-management of their condition and treatment options.

“A huge ‘heart’ to help others, putting yourself in their shoes and understanding the importance of advocating for them when they are unable to do so themselves. And ‘hand’ implies the technical skills that have been honed during the years of nursing practice.”

But 21st century nursing is a dynamic and ever-changing field, she says. The millennium has brought a flood of new technologies and new challenges to the nursing profession. With the advent of electronic medical records, technology that assists safe prescribing practices, outsourcing, and corporate takeovers of small medical practices, the world of nursing has been turned on its head.

A decade down the road, this NUH nursing scholar wants to be an Advanced Practice Nurse (APN), which requires a minimum of three years in the chosen specialisation and a master’s certificate.

“APNs learn to diagnose and manage common clinical conditions in their area of specialisation based on their clinical competency and knowledge base that they acquire over the years. This is the milestone I have set for myself,” she says.

Ms Sumathi says she wants to be a “better role model, educator and advocate — personally, for the family, for the community, for the work environment, and for the patient”.