Changing how the world thinks about nursing

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It's a wonderful life

December 1, 2003 -- Today Malaysia's Star newspaper ran Catherine Siow's lengthy, very good feature about Willie Kwa Sue Tang, a footloose Malaysian "boy" who three decades ago set out to see the world with his friends, starting in London. Kwa had little money and didn't end up seeing much of the world--but he did become a nurse and a leader in geriatric mental health care in Britain.

Kwa started as a "trainee nurse" in Britain in the early 1970's. Siow explains that Kwa came to love the job despite the low pay, and was especially drawn to nursing care for older adults, eventually specializing in nursing for elderly patients with dementia. He married a native British woman, with whom he now has two adult children. In 1987, Kwa set up the Mental Health Services for Older People in the London borough of King's Lynn and West Norfolk. Before that, the nearest in-patient facility for such patients had been 80 kilometers away. Three years later, Kwa set up the local chapter of the Alzheimer's Society, a branch he now leads.

In Kwa's part of London, Siow reports, he has long been at the forefront of work to provide better access to care for dementia patients, and especially better support for the caregivers of these patients, who face great stress in their work. Siow's piece includes Kwa's brief description of the main principles of professional support for caregivers that his chapter of the Alzheimer's Society follows. These involve recognizing the importance of the caregivers, easing their guilt at not being able to do more, helping them get needed information, being honest about what services are available, and letting them know they are doing a good job.

In 1995, Kwa set up a new National Health Service hospital for older patients with mental health problems in his London borough, a hospital that he now leads. According to Siow's report, this facility now has 63 in-patient beds, 40 day "places" and a comprehensive community nursing program providing mental health care to the elderly.

In recent years, Kwa has returned to Malaysia to give talks, arrange seminars and share ideas with health care professionals, volunteers and caregivers who work with dementia patients. According to Siow, when Kwa retires from his work in the U.K., he hopes to return to his native country and his family there, and continue his work for dementia patients.

Ms. Siow and the Star deserve credit for highlighting the heroic work of this nursing leader.

See Catherine Siow's article "Drawn to nursing care" in the Malaysian Star.

Catherine Siow may be sent notes of thanks at