The Nurses' Story
Healthcare In Singapore
Healthcare in Singapore began with a shed in the Cantonment area which was built to house sick British troops. It underwent
several transformation and came to be known as General Hospital.
As Singapore developed in importance as a strategic port, the local population grew. Healthcare facilities were insufficient to meet
rising demands and this triggered local business communities to donate towards the building of the first public hospital [later
known as Tan Tock Seng Hospital] in the 1850's.
Until 1880's, hospitals were built on Pearl's Hill, around Sepoy Lines and at the Kandang Kerbau district. By that time, hospitals
were not viewed as a useful charity, but as a necessity by members of the public.
Convicts, Chinese servants, stewards, apothecaries, dressers and other less ill patients rendered care for the sick in the
hospitals. The care provided was so poor that it caused Dr Simon, Principal Civil Medical Officer, to report in 1883 that "the
absence of proper nursing is a great evil..."
The call for nurses was soon heard in earnest. On 1 August 1885, nuns from the local French Convent answered the call to care
for the sick in the General Hospital at Sepoy Lines. The Nuns had no proper training. Their duties were limited to carrying out
medical instructions, cleaning and cooking. Their selfless dedication brought comfort to their patients. Anecdotal evidence
suggested that some of the nuns continued working though they were ill.
The first account of trained nurses in Singapore was in 1888, when the Maternity Hospital in Victoria Street employed Mrs
Woldstein, a qualified midwife. In 1896, the Colonial Nursing Association in England was formed to see to the nursing needs of the
British colonies. This move was one of the main sources of inspiration for Singapore in its quest for more trained nurses.
On 14 May 1900, Singapore saw the arrival of English nurses to take over from the French Nuns who had withdrawn their
'nursing' services. By 3 November 1900, thre were one Head Sister, seven Sisters and five Student Nurses.
The arrival of trained Nurses fulfilled the public's desire for professional nursing care. By 1903, the original pool of English nurses
had left and was replaced by other expatriate nurses. There was no increase in th enumber of trained nurses through the number
of Student Nurses did rise. Recruitment efforts were unorganized and nurse training was unstructured.
The working conditions for the first pool of trained nurses were not a bed of roses. There were insufficient number of nurses to
manage the wards.
Life for the Student Nurses in the 1920's and 1930's was difficult by today's standard. Students were subjected to strick
regimentation and discipline by ward Sisters and Matrons. They had only one day off per month. Even after becoming Staff
Nurses, they had only two days off per month and night duty was performed for two continuous weeks. Nurses had to remain
single as married nurses were not allowed to work in government hospitals. It was compulsory for Student Nurses to stay in
Hospital quarters where meals and sports facilities were provided.
From : More Than A Calling.
Nursing in Singapore since 1885
Ministry of Health @ 1997