Food, food…and more food – That’s about all you see if you get a chance to peek into her mobile phone’s picture gallery and social media sites.

“If I’m not a nurse, I’ll definitely be a chef!” says the head-honcho and well-known foodie of Ward 56 who is surprisingly svelte for someone who loves her calories.

Having joined the nursing profession right after completing her Diploma in Nursing, Senior Nurse Manager (SNM) Foong Jia Yi does not look a day past her teens despite having called NHCS home for 20 years.

Known for her candid personality and can-do demeanor, the straight-talker has accomplished what others could not. For her excellent work in nursing, SNM Foong won the SingHealth GCEO Excellence Award – Outstanding Nurse Award recently.

She shares more about the challenges (and lucky strike) in her nursing career.


At first, she thought nursing was an ‘easy’ career…

At 16 years old after my ‘O’ Levels, I did not know what I wanted to do. All I knew for sure was that I wanted to learn a skill, be independent as soon as possible and don’t wish to take any money from my parents. The nursing field fulfilled all my criteria, and it seemed like an ‘easy’ job but I was so wrong! At the end of my course, the number of students in my cohort halved from 700, so you can imagine how tough it was. For someone like me who hates routine, nursing offers lots of excitement and makes me look forward to work every day.

She wanted very much to be a critical care nurse…

After graduation, I continued to work in the general ward. However, whenever I walked past the intensive care unit (ICU) or coronary care unit (CCU), I found myself yearning to work there one day. I was attracted to the intense environment and wanted very much to challenge myself to learn how to care for patients requiring close monitoring.

Back then, only the most competent nurses would stand a chance to care for critically ill patients, and getting into ICU/ CCU was strictly by recommendation. My chance was low as I didn’t meet the full requirements but I went ahead to apply for the sponsorship for Advanced Diploma in Critical Care. By a stroke of luck, one of the successful applicants who was pregnant decided to give up her slot and I was offered her placement! The eight months of full time studies was a struggle; I was not only the youngest and most junior in the class, but also the most inexperienced without any hands-on experience in critical care. Upon completion of the course, I decided to pursue a nursing degree on a part-time basis while working at CCU. Though stressful and tiring, I was determined to get all the studies over and done with so that I could focus on nursing work.

She went from zero to hero…

In 2013, I was tasked with full autonomy to set up a new service at the new building – the Short Stay Unit (SSU). With no prior experience, I learnt everything from scratch from renovation works, ward meal delivery, linen management to garbage disposal. Despite the several bumps along the way, the management was supportive and helped to push things along.

Opening of Short Stay Unit
Opening of the SSU on 2 June 2014 was officiated, and attended by senior management and staff from various departments.

I will never forget the date SSU officially opened – 2 June 2014. The night before was a sleepless and nerve-wrecking night for me. The entire patient flow process was repeating in my head, and the fear of the patient system failing stressed me out. Thankfully, everything went smoothly. I am most proud of my team at SSU who had performed well and contributed to the success.

She was the first nurse in contact with a patient suspected to have SARS…

When SARS hit in 2003, I was stationed at Ward 44-CCU. I could still remember the moment when we discovered that we had a patient with suspected SARS. He was warded at the Surgical ICU (SGH ward) and needed the Intra-Aortic Balloon Pump. As critical care nurses were trained to operate the pump, we were deployed to render care to the patient.

At that time, I was the only nurse, together with Assistant Nurse Clinician Lim Choon Chai and Nurse Clinician Betty Yap, who happened to be on duty and hence we were selected to assist with the patient’s care.  And following that, we were the only ones who attended to the patients.


The unforgettable SARS period made SNM Foong a stronger person and better nurse.

During that period, we wore Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) day in and out, and rotated amongst ourselves for three shifts. Other than being confined in the hospital and home for many months at a stretch, we were confronted with brutal questions in our minds, “Will we be infected? What’s going to happen to us?” But we were well aware that as nurses, we had to take care of our patients. With the strong support and motivation among the peers, we managed to hold ourselves together better and things gradually lightened up. The experience was truly one of a kind.


With her move to Ward 56, SNM Foong manages a larger team than before but that does not seem to faze her. Even with a heavy workload and two school-going boys, the trail blazer enjoys getting to work early as she prefers to start her day early, “Oh in the morning, I can quickly settle and reply to all the admin matters like staff training; otherwise they’ll be put on the back burner. Then I can look forward to lunch!”

Now, this is one nurse who clearly knows where her priorities are – her staff, that is.