Assistant Professor Shefaly Shorey from the Alice Lee Centre for Nursing Studies (ALCNS) at NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine is a woman on a mission to improve the well-being of women and families.
In 2004, Asst Prof Shorey made the switch from teaching to nursing after her grandmother-in-law was diagnosed with cervical cancer. “It was a calling. We used to visit her in National University Hospital (NUH) and I was very impressed by how the nurses were touching people’s lives. I wanted to do the same,” she shared.
After spending eight years in a delivery suite and postnatal ward as a nurse and midwife at NUH, she noticed a gap in postnatal supportive care for first-time mothers — care she wished she had received when she gave birth to her son Rohin in 2002. After some nudging by her mentor Associate Professor Chong Yap Seng, Senior Consultant in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at NUH, she decided to pursue her PhD at NUS with this focus area in mind. “I think providing structured educational support from a healthcare professional is very important, especially in Singapore where it was virtually non-existent for the maternity unit,” she said.
This led her to develop a first-of-its-kind postnatal psychoeducation programme for new mothers to cope with the overwhelming challenges of the early postpartum period and make a smoother transition to parenthood. “Typically in Singapore, parents return to their doctors for check-ups a week to a month after delivery, so the idea was to provide support during the gap in clinical care between being discharged from hospital and their first appointment,” she explained. It has since been translated into a booklet and web-based programme at NUH, with several of her related publications being published in high impact journals, presented at international conferences and attracting numerous requests for collaboration.
However, Asst Prof Shorey was not content. “I wanted to reach out to more parents. The web-based programme meant that people were still confined to a computer. I wanted to provide a more personalised and mobile form of support, which is why I came up with the Home-but-not-Alone mobile app with the help of a NUS start-up grant,” she said.
The app, which took six months to develop, not only reaches out to first-time mothers, but also to experienced mothers, as well as fathers. Besides providing easily accessible knowledge-based text, video and audio files on various topics, it also delivers daily push notifications and an interactive platform for expert advice. At times, other parents chime in with tips of their own, creating a close-kinit community of more than 400 parents.
A pilot test conducted with 250 participants over six months showed that parents who used the app had greater parenting confidence, satisfaction and perceived social support, compared to those who received only routine maternity care provided during their hospital stay and first doctor’s appointment postpartum. The app has since been enhanced to help parents not just at the postnatal stage, but throughout pregnancy.
At only 38, Asst Prof Shorey’s list of achievements is impressive. She holds two Bachelor’s degrees and a Master of Science degree. She received the Ministry of Health’s Gold Medal Award for her Diploma in Nursing from Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP), and was the top student in her cohort in both 2009 and 2011 for her Advanced Diploma in Midwifery from NYP and Post Graduate Diploma in Higher Education from the National Institute of Education, respectively. For her PhD she won the President’s Graduate Fellowship Award by NUS for displaying exceptional promise or accomplishment in research. She also graduated in a record time of two-and-a-half years — a typical student graduates in three to five years — which required immense discipline and sacrifice on her part.
In March 2017, she received the Outstanding Women in Science Award at the Venus International Women Awards in Chennai, India, which honours female professionals who have demonstrated courage, creativity, excellence, originality and endurance in the field of science and technology.
When she’s not busy working 12 to 14 hour days helping others, Asst Prof Shorey enjoys spending quality time with her husband and 14-year-old son, going on nature walks, watching funny videos or talking about their day while on the way to work. “My family accepts my hectic schedule because they know I am happy as a person and can therefore give my best in my relationships,” she said.
She added, “Society has become more accepting of women being independent, pursuing their careers and excelling in them. I am living my passion every day and the culture in NUS is very encouraging. However, I must confess, it is a very tough journey. It requires a lot of time management and a strong support network. To women keen on joining the fields of science and technology, I say follow your heart. If you have passion for what you are doing, you will find ways to do it. It’s also good to have a role model. Seeing someone else succeed makes you realise that you can do it too.”
This is the fourth of a five-part series by NUS News profiling some of the University’s prominent females making waves in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).