The Art and Science of Nursing Education

13 November 2017

Award-wining faculty share their strategies for training competent and caring nurses.

Sharing her passion for bedside nursing

Dr Yanika Kowitlawakul receives the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine’s Teaching Excellence Award 2017 from Dean A/Prof Yeoh Khay Guan.

Dr Yanika Kowitlawakul is a strong advocate of education that raises the professional standing of nurses in Singapore. She believes that curriculum such as NUS Nursing’s, which teaches students subjects such as anatomy, physiology and pathophysiology, paves the way for graduate nurses to work with doctors and other allied healthcare professionals on an equal footing.

“With higher-level skills and knowledge, our nursing graduates can better understand treatment plans and communicate more effectively with doctors and allied healthcare professionals. They can be on par with and gain their colleagues’ trust in their career,” said Dr Yanika, who spent five years in Thailand and 14 years in the U.S. as a bedside nurse. She capped her illustrious clinical background with a doctorate to contribute to training nursing graduates who can pick up the baton from her.

A student once wrote her an email to thank Dr Yanika for the “Comprehensive Health Assessment” module she taught, as the student could put the skill to good use during an overseas medical mission when there was a shortage of doctors. “She understood how important health assessment was when she had to take care of real patients. She was very excited and proud that she could help people despite being in second year of nursing school!” she recalled.

Dr Yanika sees her role as that of an experienced clinician facilitating her students’ acquisition of nursing theory and clinical skills that will lead to optimal patient outcomes and ultimately produce reliable nurses who can be accountable for patients and publics.

As this requires a combination of hard and soft skills, she often uses case-based learning in her tutorial classes to stimulate knowledge application and critical thinking. Her facilitation sessions are lively, dominated by questions on how her students would approach patients or interpret data if they were good nurses exercising clinical reasoning and judgement.

She enjoys facilitating the case-based learning and simulation sessions and finds them highly rewarding when students are engaged during class and continue to question her after it.

Dr Yanika continually motivates her students to be passionate about nursing and cultivates positive attitudes towards caring for patients. Her first lesson is usually devoted to sharing her love and passion for the profession. “Once their hearts are right, competency can always be trained,” she quipped.

Passing on the art of effective communication

Ms Chen Hui-Chen (in black dress) with one of her Effective Communication classes.

Ms Chen Hui-Chen has been teaching a module unique to the NUS Nursing curriculum, “Effective Communication for Healthcare Professionals”, for the last six years, sharing her passion for the art of effective communication with her students.

She believes the nursing profession is not only about science but art as well, specifically, the art of effective communication. The main thrust of this art is to understand the needs of patients and provide them with appropriate education and necessary support. “Nurses are expected to communicate clearly and effectively with patients, caregivers and other healthcare providers to render holistic care and achieve optimal health outcomes,” she explained.

To do that, a formal and structured approach is used to guide students in understanding the art of effective communication in the healthcare industry. In her class, Ms Chen likes to use non-traditional pedagogies such as role-play, team-building gaming and simulation-based learning to allow nursing students to understand how to develop therapeutic relationships with patients, show empathy when patients relate sad experiences, and support them mentally. “I always believe a sincere encouragement from a nurse can change the world of a patient,” she said.

In her comprehensive health assessment class, Ms Chen introduces video self-reflection to allow her nursing students to record and review their own performances during practice sessions and before clinical practice. “Self-reflection is going to be extremely helpful for self-improvement. I try to instil the discipline of anytime, anywhere self-reflection so that it will eventually be as natural to them as their DNA,” she said.

“Nursing is unique in its requirement of tremendous mental strength and tenacity,” added Ms Chen. Her students are toughened up mentally for the healthcare battlefield through simulation sessions with standardised patients as part of the module on “Comprehensive Health Assessment”. In these sessions, she throws up interesting and unexpected situations to allow students to demonstrate and practise dealing with difficult patients to close the gap between knowledge and practice.

Ms Chen expressed her pride as a registered nurse who practised in Australia, Taiwan, and the U.S. from 1996. These international vistas have opened her mind and taught her to be curious, observant and open to new ideas and change, setting her as up a good role model for the qualities she is imbibing in her students, she said.

Pioneering curricula to develop “thinking doers”

Dr M Kamala Devi honoured at the School’s Teaching Excellence Award 2017 for her high level of performance, dedication and commitment to teaching.

Lectures delivered in the style of a talk show, and tutorial sessions that incorporate mini-workshops and team-building activities. Dr M Kamala Devi is a veteran educator who keeps her students engaged by frequently shaking things up and thinking out-of-the-box in her instructional methods.

It is a challenge to capture and keep the attention span of an audience of Generation Z students, but Dr Kamala possesses many tricks of the trade. She employs adult learning strategies, from bite-sized learning and small and large group activities to case-based learning, to increase class participation, interaction and engagement.

In a class on “Healthcare Ethics and Law”, for instance, she throws up for discussion a case of ethics gone wrong, in which a nurse has breached a code of conduct. In a lesson on the Workplace Safety and Health Act, students are asked to apply what they have learnt to occupational needlestick injury in nursing. Healthcare industry leaders are also invited to Dr Kamala’s class on “Leadership and Management” to contextualise change management and healthcare delivery models in a workshop.

Of her teaching philosophy, she said: “I believe that in nursing school, we must teach students to think critically about the ‘why, when and what’. We have to help them not only to learn but to make meaning behind the learning, developing ‘thinking doers’ – competent and proficient nurses who can make the right decisions,” she said.

An ex-oncology nurse, Dr Kamala amassed her vast experience as an educator when she joined Nanyang Polytechnic in 1999, first teaching in its nursing diploma programme, and then moving on to take on a wide variety of roles from clinical placement to curriculum development, leading to the introduction of new diploma programmes in radiology nursing and palliative care nursing. She has also been actively serving on the boards of the Singapore Nursing Association and Singapore Nursing Board.

She joined NUS Nursing in 2008, and has since pioneered a slew of new curriculum modules and introduced new initiatives in the programme, including the scrubs that nursing students now wear in the labs.