Professions that are often considered reputable include doctors, lawyers, teachers… and the list goes on.
But nurses, in my books, are far more special.
I had my first memorable experience with nurses when I was admitted to Changi General Hospital in 2012 due to a skin abscess. There was a lump of pus under the skin surface located near the spine.
It wasn’t serious, but I had to be warded for an emergency operation to remove the lump. I was bleeding then.
While I was feeling fearful and confused (it was my A Levels period too), the nurses there were incredibly caring, patient and did not dismiss my fears. Post-surgery, they bathed me, cleaned my dressing daily and encouraged me.
Nursing hasn’t been a career of choice in many societies, and that includes Singapore. Furthermore, with an ageing population like ours, we’ll certainly need more nurses to fill up the gap.
According to a Channel NewsAsia article this year, efforts have been made to help fill up the 9,000 healthcare job openings that needs to be filled within the next few years.
But what’s it like to be young – and be able to make a difference in the lives of others?
We talk to four young health professionals from varying nursing profiles to get a deeper insight on what made them decide to walk down this career path, and the challenges they face as a young adult navigating through the industry.
Self-Care And The Art Of Wound Dressing
Nurse Rieka Erina, 24, has always wanted to enter a medical school in Singapore. Armed with A Levels results she deemed unsatisfactory, she contemplated studying medicine in her hometown Indonesia or Australia.
But a life calling often has its way.
During the same period, her uncle had a sudden stroke – that was her first contact with a nurse. Despite parental objection, she stood firm in her decision to join nursing in NUS.
Quoting her favourite quote, “Nursing is an art and a science because we work with humans. We can employ our knowledge and skills to manage the patient’s condition, but (only) with the touch that comes from the heart.”
With more than two years of experience in the profession, Rieka also shared that dressing a patient’s wound is an art and it is important to make sure that the wound (being dressed) looks good.
“As a nurse, self-care is very important because if you don’t, you won’t be able to take care of your patients in the long run.”
As a young nurse, Rieka was exposed to many issues which she couldn’t have anticipated; such as difficult patients with some even more challenging family members.
“There was one particular patient that has stayed in the ward for (some time) and her family was known to be quite rude to the nurses. She (not only) has low pain tolerance, she tends to want things to be done her way. I was, initially, quite irritated by some of her demands.”
“But I was reminded that it is the sick and not the healthy who needs (the most) love.”
“After much patience, I eventually built a good rapport with her. One day during my night shift, the patient told me that she is really thankful because I understood the way she wants to be cared for. In that moment, all the effort I’ve put in seems to become worth it. I grew quite attached to her in the last few days of her life.”
Eventually, that patient passed on in the ward.
“It was during my shift – I almost didn’t come due to bad flu and fever. But I was glad I turned up. When I broke the news to the family members, her infamously rude sons personally came to me and said, “Thanks for caring for my mother during her last days so patiently”. It was one of the most memorable experiences that I had.”
Job Satisfaction And The Future
As with many other teens, Nurse Alex Huang, was feeling lost – especially when it came to his career choice. He did not know what kind of job he wanted; let alone a profession to carry him through the rest of his life.
“I used to perceive nursing as a “dirty job” because they are ones who have to deal with excrements.”
But now, at 26 – and equipped with more than one year of experience, Alex has realised that nursing encompasses so much more.
“It is truly a noble career as we are privileged to be entrusted (with the role) to care for someone at one of the worst points in their life.”
Being in a predominantly female career field also has its unique sets of challenges. It is no exception for Alex.
Sharing a meaningful conversation exchanged with a male patient during one of his attachments, Alex revealed words which still stuck to this day.
The patient expressed, “I have been a nurse for more than 40 years, and I am so glad to see so many of you (men) join nursing. Every day in clinical is a new experience; be humble and (stay) curious to learn.”
Currently, Alex works in the cancer ward and deals mostly with patients who are in the earlier stages of the illness – ones who are coming in for curative treatment.
One of the most satisfying parts of the job: Seeing patients walk out of the treatment unit joyfully when they complete their course of treatment.
“We have a small ceremony where patients will get to ring the bell of hope, signifying (them) embracing a new life.”
But if there’s an opportunity to explore a new department, Alex would opt to work with patients in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
“It is a challenging environment (to work in the ICU) due to the fast-paced environment and special knowledge required. In some cancer centres overseas, there’s oncology ICU. To me, that sounds like a great environment to work in!”
Life-Changing Moments In The Ordinary
Nurse Welshia Tan, 22, is the youngest of the four we get to interview. Like Nurse Rieka, Welshia’s spark of interest towards nursing started when a loved one – her grandfather – was admitted to the hospital for palliative care.
After many interactions with the nurses who cared for him during her visits, she caved in – with one goal in mind: To make a difference in the lives of others.
Unlike the other interviewees who work daily in the wards, Welshia works in an Endoscopy Centre, and part of her daily job scope includes washing the scopes, as well as pre- and post-procedures.
“There was one patient who came for an emergency scope. He appeared to be alright on the surface, but mid-way during the procedure, he collapsed. We resuscitated him immediately and managed to revive him back.”
Unlike working in a ward where you will have deeper interactions with the patient, Welshia also had close encounters with patients who came to the centre for a scope.
“Another time, a patient was pretty nervous right before we pushed her into the procedure room. I chatted with her for a bit, before asking if she has done this before.”
“Knowing that first-time patients are usually more anxious, I kept her occupied and asked her about anything – from school to work. Then, I reassured her that this procedure will take less than 30 mins and that she will be alright.”
Indeed, there is no greater joy than knowing that you’ve made a difference to someone’s life.
As a nurse, Welshia also appreciates the life skills she has learnt on-the-job.
“It benefits me in different ways because now, I am able to give advice to my family and friends whenever they need help medically.”
“Good Death” And Palliative Care
With a special interest in voluntary work since young, Nurse Woong Si Ying, 24, took a dive into nursing with the sole aim of wanting to save lives.
“(Palliative care) is not about nursing the patient only. It is also about nursing their loved ones and ensuring that it is a “good death”, too.
This means that there is good end-of-life planning, and making sure the last journey of the patient is a smoother and better experience for both the patient and loved ones.”
Death is never an easy topic to talk about. But being a young nurse in the palliative care unit has certainly made a strong influence in Si Ying’s perceptions towards life.
“I had a patient who grabbed my hand and thanked me for being there for her when she was scared and kissed my hand just a day before she passed on.”
“For every death that I experienced, it re-emphasised to me how vulnerable life is. Anything can happen to anyone at any time, and no one knows what will happen the next second. This made me appreciate my loved ones and people around me even more.”
To relieve stress and reduce the toll of emotional labour, Si Ying goes for yoga classes and indulges in alone time.
For all the young nurses-to-be, here are some words of wisdom from the 24-year-old:
“There will be ups and downs along the way but always remind yourself of why did you choose nursing in the first place. The best time to learn is during your attachments you will have every term break, so keep asking questions and never be complacent.”
*The hospitals in which the nurses are working at have been undisclosed at their request.