We’ve recently read stories of how our frontline workers were turned away from food stalls and taxis. But even before the pandemic hurtled into our lives, most of us already had an idea of how tough jobs like nursing can be.
Despite knowing the challenges of the job, it still didn’t stop Senior Staff Nurse (SSN) Nur Asyiqin at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) from aspiring to be one. Ever since an encounter with a school nurse in primary school sparked an interest, she has gone on to pursue nursing as a career, now with a decade of experience under her belt and counting.
These days, she mostly spends her days tending to young COVID-19 patients and their caregivers. But despite her busy schedule, she managed to spare some time to share her story with us.
As kids, we’ve all had that one job we wanted to do as a grown-up – like being a policeman, firefighter or doctor, for instance. However, not all of us can say that we’ve fulfilled these childhood aspirations like SSN Nur Asyiqin has.
Remember freaking out in primary school when it came to taking blood tests and injections? Health assessments during our childhood don’t always hold the fondest memories for many of us. That’s not the case for SSN Asyiqin though, as she considers those moments in primary school as the ones igniting her passion for nursing.
The reason? The school nurse. “She made me calm, knowing that I was a bit nervous,” SSN Asyiqin said, smiling reminiscently at the memory. “She was also very skilled at identifying the heart murmur I had at the time. This encounter was enough to spark an interest in nursing.”
That childhood dream prompted her to learn CPR as a first step – a skill which served her well. When she saw a child hurt on the escalator, she found herself brimming with the same calmness and confidence she once saw in that very school nurse that tended to her, and rendered first aid without so much as a twitch.
“That incident made me realise that, hey, maybe this is something I should do in the future,” she said.
After her GCE O Levels, a discussion with her aunt about job prospects, as well as the unwavering support from her family members, reaffirmed SSN Asyiqin’s belief that nursing was the right call for her. After graduating from Nanyang Polytechnic with a Diploma in Nursing, she went on to join KKH and pursue her degree as well as her Advanced Diploma in Paediatric Nursing – a journey that took her almost six years.
Of all the numerous nursing specialisations available, she chose to pursue paediatrics. When I asked her about it, she recounts a very specific incident with a young patient that sealed the deal that she would be in this career for the long haul.
“The child actually drew something to show her appreciation for me,” SSN Asyiqin said, smiling as she recalled the incident. “Simple acts of appreciation like that – actually, just children in general – really make my day, and that’s why I decided to go for paediatrics.”
During the pandemic, the paediatric ward she was working at was transformed into an isolation ward dedicated to caring for young COVID-19 patients, as well as their caregivers.
The sudden chaos and changes of dealing with a viral infection would shake anyone, but SSN Asyiqin and her team hit the ground running, thanks to rigorous training and preparations that were put into place ever since the SARS pandemic back in 2003.
Like other nurses, the thought of bringing the virus home to her family was a thought she couldn’t shake – even with the strict protocols in place. Thankfully, both her family and friends showered her with support and even encouraged her to continue the fight. That was enough to help her barrel through all her uncertainties and anxieties, continuing to take care of her patients and make her job #1 priority.
Take away all the safety precautions and the isolation factor, and you’ll realise that her daily tasks didn’t change much. Assessing reports, checking on patients, sampling blood, giving meds…the list goes on.
What did change, however, was the way she approached each patient, especially since she had to trade her nurse uniform for protective gear. To a child, any figure clad in oversized plastic gowns and bulky-looking headgear makes for a pretty intimidating sight – so she made extra effort in creating small talk, and smiling with her eyes to build rapport.
Image credit: KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital
Even then, approaching these patients requires a little creativity on her part. Teenagers, she said, aren’t as forthcoming as younger children, and bonding with them requires a little more work in the form of small talk and anecdotes. But her naturally comforting disposition would eventually win them over, no matter how tough a nut they are to crack.
Her demeanour isn’t just reserved for the children. In fact, she extends it to the caregivers as well. When she’s not caring for them or working with them to take care of the child, she also ensures that they have room to express their emotions.
“There was this one incident when the doctor was bringing news of the child’s diagnosis to the parents,” she recalled. “He was tested negative, but the mother still broke down crying out of sheer relief.”
“It reminded me that parents of these patients are under a lot of emotional distress. The best thing I can do is to take care of their child as best as I can to allow the parents to express and process their emotions properly.”
Image credit: KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital
Throughout our conversation, SSN Asyiqin spoke with utmost passion about her job. She flashed a wide grin whenever she shared her heartwarming stories with me, and enthusiastically described the details of her job and background without much prompting.
That passion became extra apparent when I asked her if she saw herself remaining in this line of work in the future. “Oh, definitely,” she said almost instantly. “This is my first and only full-time job, and I can honestly see myself being here more than 10 years down the road.”
For office-bound workers like myself, sitting behind a computer every day makes it easy for us to lose touch with the people around us. But for SSN Asyiqin, interacting with both children and their caregivers on the daily is a constant reminder of the greater good in humanity.
“I’ve gotten to know so many of them, and I’ve seen the sacrifices parents have made for their children,” she said. “The whole journey is like a give-and-take – I help them in the hospital, but at the same time, I learn from them too.”
To her, the job is more than just the things you learn in school – it’s a constant, life-long learning journey.
Letting out a chuckle, she stressed that the job didn’t just involve diaper changes – a common misconception that Singaporeans have about paediatric nurses. Rather, it’s also being exposed to a broad spectrum of skills, and being taught the true meaning of empathy via her human-to-human interactions with her young patients.
“If you would like a career that would allow you to have hands-on experience in helping others in need, please consider nursing,” she said. “I never regretted taking this path, and I’m sure you won’t too.”
As far as noble professions go, nursing is definitely among the top of the list. Not many of us can say what we’re truly passionate about, but people like SSN Asyiqin are fortunate to have found their true calling in nursing.
As we’ve seen from SSN Asyiqin’s story, the job is much more than just changing diapers or playing with children. Be it in the modules she took in school, or the things she learns from her patients, it’s very clear that the job requires high-level skills and knowledge to provide her patients with the best possible care.
If you’re inspired by SSN Asyiqin’s story and actively seeking a higher calling, find out more about nursing via Care To Go Beyond. You’ll discover what the job truly entails, as well as basic information like starting salaries and career pathways.
It doesn’t matter if you’re still studying or right smack in the middle of your career – both students and mid-career switchers are welcome to join. Perhaps by taking up this profession, you’ll be able to find the same fulfillment that SSN Asyiqin has every day.
This post was produced in collaboration with Care To Go Beyond.
Cover image adapted from: KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital
Responses have been edited for grammar and clarity.
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