Fresh out of secondary school and looking to support her family after her father’s death, Ms Samantha Ong seized one of the first job opportunities she came across and became a nurse.

It meant giving up her dream of joining the police force, and led to a few tough years at the former Woodbridge Hospital where she nearly quit.

But 33 years later, the chief nurse at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) said she has no regrets taking up the career. Yesterday, she received the highest honour in the local nursing profession – the President’s Award for Nurses.

“To work in this environment, it really requires a lot of passion and love,” said Ms Ong, 53, who was one of the pioneering nurses in the Community Psychiatric Nursing programme. “A lot of patients in IMH are long-stayers and we become part of their family.”

Four other nurses also received the award for their outstanding contributions to their profession.

President Halimah Yacob handed out the awards at the Nurses’ Day Reception at the Istana.

The award was established in 2000 and recognises nurses who have been exceptional in patient care, leadership, mentorship, research and administration, and engage in continual learning to develop the nursing profession and nurture younger nurses.

It is open to all nurses from healthcare institutions in the public, private and community care sectors, as well as educational institutions.

Nurses are nominated for the award by their institutions, peers or the public, and are interviewed by a selection panel chaired by Dr Chia Shi-Lu, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, and which includes Ministry of Health’s chief nursing officer Tan Soh Chin.

Another award recipient is Ms Ang Shin Yuh, the deputy director of nursing quality research and transformation at Singapore General Hospital. She has continued to pursue her passion for research since starting out as a nurse there 17 years ago.

She has spearheaded innovation projects to improve work and learning for staff, including collaborating with game developers to create a 3D simulation game online to test nurses in the administration of blood and blood products.

“In SGH, there’s never a boring day,” said Ms Ang, 40. “Currently, my biggest motivation is to create a very conducive environment for recovery and transform nursing care to meet the future healthcare needs of Singaporeans.”

The other award recipients are Ms Jancy Mathews, 58, chief nurse at the National University Polyclinics; Ms Jenny Sim Teck Meh, 68, chief nurse at Ren Ci Hospital; and Mr Tay Wei Sern, 55, deputy director of health sciences at the School of Applied and Health Sciences in the Institute of Technical Education.

Each of them received a trophy, certificate and $10,000 cash prize that can be used for their professional and personal development.

The five winners this year bring the total number of awardees to 72.