Ms Bushra Shaik Ismail specialises in preventing the spread of infectious agents.

It used to be a challenge getting her colleagues to pay close attention to infection prevention measures. As hospital staff, they thought that they knew all there was to know about the subject.

But with the COVID-19 pandemic throwing everyone off balance, Singapore General Hospital (SGH) Assistant Nurse Clinician Bushra Shaik Ismail has found it a great opportunity to reinforce the importance of infection control.

“Now everyone is worried about their safety and whenever they are in doubt, they will contact us,” said Ms Bushra (below), who is with SGH’s Department of Infection Prevention and Epidemiology.

Her colleagues are also more aware of the role she and her department play in the hospital compared to the past. For one, her department was often confused with the Department of Infectious Diseases, a medical unit comprising infectious diseases specialists.

As an Infection Prevention nurse, Ms Bushra plays a vital role in preventing the transmission of infections, and enhancing hygiene and safety in the hospital. One of her daily tasks is to go through laboratory reports of patients in the wards.

“Patients may have been admitted with existing infections that need closer attention to prevent the spread to other patients,” said Ms Bushra. When a patient is found to be infected with highly contagious bacteria, such as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), he or she may have to transfer out of the ward while staff will need to put on full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Bleach solution is used in the area to thoroughly kill MRSA and other bacteria that are highly resistant to many antibiotics.

Like an independent ombudsman of the hospital’s services, Ms Bushra inspects the wards and clinics under her care. “If there are any cracks or moulds on the ceiling, we will ask the Nurse Clinician to get someone to change the ceiling board,” she said. In a dialysis centre, moulds or fungi can be harmful to dialysis patients, as they have weakened immune systems.

She also looks into operational procedures like correct cannula insertion and removal to minimise infection risks.

Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, however, a large part of her time has been spent on training colleagues on infection control, including the proper wearing and removal of masks and PPE. The removal process is equally important to avoid transferring germs from the used PPE onto the wearer. “The whole point of donning PPE goes out of the window if removal is not done properly,” she said.

Ms Bushra joined SGH in 2008 after completing her nursing diploma at Nanyang Polytechnic. She was posted to the isolation ward, where she provided care and treatment for patients, some of whom suffered from highly contagious diseases, such as human papillomavirus and chickenpox.

A year later, the H1N1 influenza pandemic hit Singapore, infecting some 415,000 people. “Everybody was learning about the precautions needed during the H1N1 outbreak. We were also assisting doctors with the correct wearing of PPE,” she said, noting that the hospital’s response to H1N1 offered her a glimpse of what to expect and how to react to the next viral outbreak — COVID-19 in 2020.

Ms Bushra spent eight years in the isolation ward before she moved to her present position. Her interest in this field has led her to study part-time at Australia’s Griffith University for a postgraduate degree in the subject. “I do not have a specialty certificate in this area, and I want to stay up-to-date and on track with developments,” she added.

Infection control is never far from her mind. Even at home, she practises what she preaches at work. “When COVID-19 started, I told my kids to keep a distance when I get home. They were quite upset, but now they know that they have to give me time to wash up first,” she said.

While work and study do not leave her with much time for her family, she finds time on weekends to watch films with her two young children. She also relaxes by pampering herself and indulging in beauty rituals, such as applying sheet masks.

Get the latest updates about Singapore Health in your mailbox! Click here to subscribe.