It was the memory of how nurses took care of her late father while he was battling lung cancer that led to Jocelyn Catumbas' lifelong dream of becoming a nurse.
"Every time I see the nurses give care to my father, then in my heart, I always think: I (want) to be a nurse," recalled the 37-year-old senior nurse at Gleneagles Hospital, part of the privately-owned IHH Healthcare, who was a child at the time.
Even after majoring in business management in university – a nursing course was too expensive for her family at the time – the eldest of five children held on to the dream.
In 2008, Catumbas saw an ad for a nursing scholarship offered by the Parkway College of Nursing and Allied Health, which is the education arm of IHH. She applied and then became part of the college's first cohort, in exchange for a six-year bond.
11 years after graduating from nursing school, the Batangas native has navigated her fair share of difficult patients and hard times. But even the ongoing global pandemic has not led Catumbas to contemplate quitting.
"The best part of the job is when you see the patients recover after a major surgery, or just by seeing their cheerful faces. It's the warm feeling when you see your patients recovered," she said.
Attrition rate in Singapore increasing
Catumbas spoke to Yahoo Philippines in July as part of Nurses' Day celebrations, which is held in Singapore on August 1. The mother of a four-year-old son, she is married to a Singaporean nurse and is a permanent resident.
Both Catumbas and her husband, who works at the Institute of Mental Health, had to endure the daily grind of donning full personal protective equipment (PPE) for months on end as Singapore battled the coronavirus. She was deployed to swab patients for COVID-19, while he volunteered to help monitor COVID patients housed at the Singapore Expo.
Her husband was especially careful about hygiene, showering at the end of his shift and then showering back home before interacting with their son.
In terms of her desire to stay in the job, Catumbas is something of an outlier among nurses in Singapore. On August 2, it was revealed in Parliament that among resident nurses in the public sector, the attrition rate hit 7.4 per cent in 2021, up from 5.4 per cent the year before.
It was even worse among foreign nurses, where attrition more than doubled year on year to 14.8 per cent in 2021. Many have cited the ensuing fatigue from managing the pandemic, exacerbated by the inability to return home due to border closures and quarantine requirements.
In late July, the Health Ministry announced that more than 25,000 nurses in the public sector will receive a special retention payment of between 1.7 and 2.1 months of their base salary. This will also be extended to an additional 2,600 nurses working in publicly-funded community care organisations, as part of efforts to retain nurses.
Cap on Filipino healthcare workers going abroad
Catumbas recalled that there were about 100 students in that pioneer batch from Parkway College, mostly from Myanmar, Vietnam and China. Five Filipinos were in that batch too, but only Catumbas and one other successfully graduated.
According to figures from the Singapore Nursing Board's annual report for 2020, there are some 7,500 nurses from the Philippines working in Singapore, or about 17 per cent of the total nursing work force.
And in 2021, the Philippines government imposed a cap on the number of healthcare workers allowed to work abroad. As of February this year, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) has raised the annual deployment limit to 7,000.
Consequently, health authorities in Singapore have urged healthcare employers to diversify their recruitment sources.
And while Catumbas has younger cousins who are training to be nurses, they are not overly concerned about the cap. "They would be thinking that maybe by the time they finish or graduated (from) nursing school, then things will get much better."
Asked what advice she has given her cousins, she stressed that nursing is not just about getting opportunities abroad. "Be patient and be prepared after they graduate. It's not about (what) you see on TV (where) the nurses wear nice uniforms. It's about how we care (for) and look after patients."