Lecturer Pauline Hu is redefining what it means to be a nurse, constantly challenging her students to generate new ideas – even inventing devices – to solve patient problems.
Pauline Hu Leong Hong, Institute of Technical Education, President's Award for Teachers 2022 Recipient
When nursing is married to technology, a world of possibilities is opened up to solve problems creatively. Think of a mobile app that alerts caregivers when a patient wets his bed or a brace that locks when patients have a violent fit, thus protecting them and their healthcare worker. These products are the brainchild of Pauline Hu, who teaches the Nitec in Nursing course at ITE College East.
Graduating with a degree in computational physics, the former IT consultant switched to nursing before venturing into teaching 10 years ago. Clearly, she doesn’t let labels and convention define her – something she preaches to her students too.
“I want them to think broadly and widely,” says Pauline. She thinks nothing of organising student projects outside of the curriculum that benefit from their nursing expertise. These include generating ideas to solve patient problems, then turning these ideas into real gadgets to be presented at local and international showcases. Along the way, students learn to do market research, create presentations and pitch their ideas confidently. These projects are sought-after and students have to interview for a spot on the team.
If none of this sounds like nursing training to the layman, Pauline intended it to be that way. She sees nurses as problem-solvers, no different from engineers or IT consultants, who should be trained to think out of the box.
“While I may have an idea, I don’t provide my students with the solution. I ask questions, challenge them and get them to think about industry trends. They learn a lot more this way.”
When nursing collaborates with engineering
Pauline has a soft spot for assistive technology that benefits the elderly, as they could use help to improve their quality of life in many ways. Two student solutions she is particularly proud of are Sensistove, which sends an alert to a family member’s handphone when a senior has forgotten to switch a stove off; and EasyPull, a 3D-printed plastic frame that makes it easier for those with a weak grip to remove a three-pin plug.
EasyPull won a prize in the 2019 edition of the Assistive & Rehabilitative Technologies Student Innovation Challenge (ARTSIC) in Singapore and in the i-CREATe competition in Canberra, Australia, in the same year.
Her students’ latest project is Artful Support, a hand brace that helps Parkinson’s patients with tremors hold on to their mobile phones securely.
Some of the prototypes are the result of collaborations between the nursing and mechanical engineering departments at ITE College East; a few have attracted commercial interest.
Pauline isn’t hung up on choosing students with the best grades for these projects. She believes that every student should have a chance, as long as they are committed.
“I’m very inclusive,” she says with a chuckle. “I have students asking me why I chose them for the projects or overseas trips despite their low GPA. I’d say, don’t worry because I will guide you.”
Learning through their hearts
Like a tale from a storybook, Pauline took up nursing when she was inspired by the nurses at the frontlines during the SARS viral outbreak in the early 2000s. It involved a huge pay cut, but her husband was supportive of what was a meaningful career switch to her.
She was a senior nurse at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital for six years, spending about a year in paediatrics and five years in gynaecology. In her third year, she took on the role of mentoring nursing students on top of her regular healthcare duties. Realising how much she enjoyed working with students, she combined both interests and joined ITE College East as a nursing lecturer in 2012.
“When students like you, they will truly make an effort to learn. When their hearts move, learning moves. That is when I feel that I need to do even better for them.”
When she started out, she struggled to relate to her students. It took her about a year to connect with them. Through her interactions with them, she realised that emotional bonds were what motivated her students. “They say ‘Teacher, I study because of you’. When students like you, they will truly make an effort to learn. When their hearts move, learning moves. That is when I feel that I need to do even better for them.”
Pauline nurtures the “can-do” spirit in her students by sharing with them the achievements and awards of students from previous batches. “I think this is very important because some students who enter ITE might not be strong academically or highly motivated,” she explains. “I want to show them that by joining ITE, it’s the beginning for them, not the end.”
Over the years, she has implemented creative teaching methods to help her students learn better. For example, realising that most of her students are visual learners, she encouraged her students to create 3-D boards on each body system and colourful picto-graphical guides on key concepts and workflows, to improve their understanding.
To teach the importance of evidence-based work as a nurse, she had students pick any topic they liked to demonstrate their understanding of research. One group was keen to investigate if fast food consumption in Singaporean households rose during the pandemic in 2020. They had to conduct interviews, analyse data to test their hypothesis and present their findings.
She elaborates, “The work of a nurse is very much focused on evidence. Students have to understand the evidence and carry out what’s needed for their patients in a step-by-step manner.”
Her keen interest in technology led her to partner Chinese gaming company NetDragon Websoft three years ago to create a virtual reality gamification tool. Students have experienced the thrill of learning about administering oxygen therapy to a patient through a virtual reality hospital setting. Her peers have also had a go with the gamification tool, as part of Pauline’s regular sharing on best practices.
Motivating students to go beyond
As part of exposure to work outside the classroom, Pauline also rallies her students to volunteer. Her students have supported teachers at Grace Orchard School during the pandemic, creating videos and props to supplement lessons on daily living skills for children with disabilities.
At Metta School, they conducted terrarium and craft classes for special-needs youths. Through these activities, the students familiarised themselves with the challenges of the community.
This is part of holistic development in Pauline’s plan for her students, to constantly steer her students to solve real-life problems beyond the standard nursing curriculum.
“Some of them who went on to polytechnics tell me everything is so easy, thanks to what they learned at ITE,” she says happily. Her energy appears to be infectious: Some of her students recently started a Singapore Nurses Association (SNA) Student Nurses Chapter in their respective schools, to empower more nursing students to build up the profession. Pauline is the CCA teacher in charge of the Association’s student chapter at the ITE.
“I want to keep creating opportunities for my students to learn in various ways,” she says. After all, “teachers are like the rudder of a boat. We are the ones to guide them on the right path.”