I’m very quality driven,’ says Ms Goh Meh Meh, known as Sister Goh by her colleagues. ‘Sister’ is the old way of referring to nurse manager. Even with her seniority, she insists on being called Sister. This is in line with her demeanour—approachable and soft-spoken with an air of calm.It doesn’t come as a surprise when she says that her main weakness is being overly compassionate. But there is also a steely resolve which comes out when she goes into detail about changes she’s made to improve the environment for patients and colleagues or when she explains the latest projects she’s spearheading.
For her, the work of an Operating Theatre (OT) nurse is fulfilling because ‘the OT environment is fast-paced, hightech.
'We have to keep up with the technology. It keeps me on my feet.’ She laughs as she describes the stereotypical view of the OT nurse: ‘Speak fast, eat fast, walk fast, fierce.’
Sister Goh is quick to add that whilst OT nurses may be less known to patients than nurses in the ward, this d oesn’t mean that the human touch is less essential to their job of caring for patients. Efficiency must never be an excuse for being mechanistic or unsympathetic.
‘I always tell my nurses that it’s not so mechanistic, bringing the patient in and out from one room to another. It’s about the human interaction. Coming to the OT, the patient has fear and anxiety. The patient has a lot of concerns and worries in the background although he or she may appear normal. A courteous smile does a lot for the patient. So although we are busy, we may be rushing from case to case, the human touch must be there for the patient.’
Sister Goh shares that as a young nurse, when she could afford the time, she used to hold the patient’s hand until they became fully sedated. She adds, ‘I would ask them, what name do you want me to use when you wake up? Because people may have a preferred name. I tell them, I’ll be here when you wake up. Some of them actually remember the touch.’
Her duties in recent years have become administrative and supervisory in nature but she continues with her work on the ground out of passion for nursing. On the day of the interview for this profile, she was at the Ambulatory Surgery Centre until 12 o’clock and from there she went to Outram Community Hospital.
Sister Goh is the first figure on the right. This photograph was taken during her first posting as an OT nurse after she graduated from SON in 1976.
Where does she get all this stamina and energy? ‘Nursing is tough, but if you love your job and you want your people to do well, then you must also show that you’re on the ground to work with them and to support them,’ Sister Goh says. ‘You can’t be a leader without followers. If I treat my people well, my people will treat the patients well.’
Staff morale and bringing peace to the work environment are key priorities for her. She was asked to head the Theatre Sterile Supplies Unit (TSSU) nine years ago [The unit is now called Sterile Supplies Unit (SSU).]
She agreed on the condition that she be allowed to continue with her work in OT nursing. After reflecting on the state of the department and how she might rise up to the challenge of the headship, she was resolved to bring about a change in culture.
Sister Goh (in the middle) has taken part in many overseas humanitarian missions. This was taken in Myanmar in December 1999.
She speaks candidly about how she saw that her work was cut out for her when she first went down to SSU. SSU is on the floor below the OTs. It took three years to create the working environment at SSU that she had envisioned:‘I focus on the peace when I go down. I started with the staff—engaging them, involving them, sending them for training. I always believe that you must feel good in order to do good work so I improved their dress code, making it similar to OT. I renovated the tea room, s o that they can have c offee and tea.’
She admits that the responsibility of running SSU has been a humbling experience for her. She has gained enormous respect for the staff. Before, as an OT nurse, she didn’t know much about the work of SSU. SSU, with its staff strength of 70, and where the oldest member of staff is 75, is responsible for the supply and quality of sterile instruments used everywhere on SGH Campus.
Just like in OT nursing, care and attention are needed in the SSU.
There is no room for mistake. Sister Goh nods: ‘Now I appreciate that one set of instruments takes about 30 to 45 minutes just for one person to p ack, to check.’ In her quest for quality, Sister Goh makes sure to keep up with technological advances, especially in aspects that increaseproductivity: ‘My colleagues are always saying “Sister Goh, can you go slower a bit or not?” because I’m always trying to get new processes up. Anything to do with technology that can automate things, I always feel that we must ride on that opportunity.’
Her eyes light up when she talks about quality improvement projects and research: ‘Every year, I will make sure that there is some kind of process improvement project. I always try to leverage on technology, be it IT, or robotic AI.’ Technology is useful because it can improve work processes and allow nurses to focus on tasks that machines cannot perform.
Process improvement projects that have been implemented or are on the way include the Real Time Location System (RTLS). This technology tracks the location of equipment in use in OT, a resource heavy department where there are lots of inventory, such as microscopes and lasers. The RTLS helps to monitor their usage and whereabouts. Another project is the Medical Device Interface at the Post Anaesthesia Care Unit, which will relieve nurses of manually taking the parameters of patients after surgery. This is a laborious and time-consuming protocol whereby the patient’s pulse, respiration and blood pressure have to be measured at intervals of five minutes, followed by 10 minutes and 15 minutes.
When describing how a surgeon is supported by his or her OT nurses, Sister Goh uses this analogy: ‘A cook will want a capable assistant.’ Apart from training to ensure that OT nurses are equipped to perform well at their job, there must also be a culture of mutual trust and respect. She practises an open-door policy with her nurses, making sure that they see her as someone they can approach to speak their mind.
She is grateful to her mentors for the opportunities they have given her, their strict guidance and generous support. She remembers managers like Ms Gin Cheng Yam for being ‘visionary and meticulous’. One of them made her go for further training in Massachusetts when she herself wasn’t sure that she was ready: ‘Ms Kwok Moon Hoe was quite stern, a person of few words. But I do know that at the end of the day, she cares.’
The culture is different these days.
‘In nursing last time, when the Matron walked past, the nurses have to stand aside and we have to greet her. Now I will say, hi, how are you? There is nothing wrong for a senior to say hi to a junior staff.’
Her openness to her staff is another expression of the sensitivity and kindness that she deems as most essential to nursing. She mentions it often, the quality of care that is delivered only when nurses are able to express that human touch, the therapeutic touch. In this respect, Sister Goh certainly proves herself to be someone who walks her talk.
Ms Goh Meh Meh entered the School of Nursing in 1973 after her GCE ‘O’ Levels. She graduated in 1976 and was posted to Changi General Hospital. After she completed her postgraduate training in Operating Theatre (OT) Nursing Course, she joined SGH as an OT nurse in 1984 where she remains in service till today. She is currently the Hospital’s Deputy Director of Nursing, overseeing the work of nurses in 39 operating theatres at the Major Operating Theatre (MOT), Burns OT, Ambulatory Service Centre, Urology OT and MOT@ National Heart Centre Singapore. Since 2012, she has also taken on the headship of the Sterile Supplies Unit (SSU) which procures and prepares all the instruments used on SGH Campus. In September 2020, she stepped up to take chargeof the newly opened Short Stay Ward at Outram Community Hospital, providing nursing management for patients who require short stays following their surgeries. Ms Goh has been a member of humanitarian medical missions in countries like China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar and Mongolia. She received the President’s Award for Nurses in 2018.
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