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A career of caring

WHEN she was a student at Anglo-Chinese Junior College, Ms Khairunnisa Jumat’s peers described her as “rough with a bit of a temper” — a description she did not disagree with. As such, she did not consider nursing, with its emphasis on qualities like patience and a caring disposition, as a career initially. But a strong desire to serve and a deep interest in human anatomy and biology eventually motivated Ms Khairunnisa to take up a Diploma in Nursing at Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP) in 2012. In her second year of studies, a lecturer recognised her potential and encouraged her to apply for the MOH Holdings (MOHH) Healthcare Scholarship, which would offer her more opportunities and a broader view of the public healthcare vision. Ms Khairunnisa, now 32, was awarded the top-tier Healthcare Merit Scholarship under MOHH in 2014.

Financially, this was a weight off her mind as it allowed her to devote more time to cocurricular activities, such as debating, instead of “rushing from one part-time job to another”, as she puts it. During a clinical attachment at the Singapore General Hospital, she watched as her mentor gently and respectfully helped a bedridden cancer patient into a sitting position, making adjustments until he was comfortable. Ms Khairunnisa was so inspired by the way her mentor cared for the patient that she strived to emulate her. She says: “From then on, I tried to make my movements gentler, speak to my patients in a caring and respectful tone and empathise with them. Nursing has mellowed me, and made me more mindful of my actions and surroundings.”

A learning journey

After graduating from NYP with a Diploma in Nursing with Merit in 2015, Ms Khairunnisa interned at Ministry of Health, where she gleaned insights into the work behind both hospital and government policies, as well as various facets of the healthcare industry. Keen to further her qualifications, she pursued a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing Studies at the Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery and Palliative Care at King’s College London in the United Kingdom. This was also under the MOHH scholarship. Ms Khairunnisa also participated in university-based initiatives such as Siren Saves Lives, which raised funds for the purchase of ambulances in war-torn Syria. In 2014, she travelled to the United States for a two-month attachment at the University of Pennsylvania, and concurrently did a clinical stint at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. “I grew academically, improved skills-wise and gained a deeper appreciation for the cultural diversity in healthcare,” she recalls. “Seeing nurses practise their skills at the highest level in a world-class facility was motivating.” That same year, she also went on a week-long community involvement project with fellow MOHH scholars at Kirivong Referral Hospital in Takeo, Cambodia. They accompanied doctors on their rounds, learnt to manage cases using limited resources, raised funds to buy medical equipment and improved the sanitation facilities. Her hard work and commitment paid off. Last January, she graduated with first class honours.

At the frontline

Ms Khairunnisa is now a staff nurse at the 24-hour Acute Care Clinic in Sengkang Health at Alexandra Hospital, part of the SingHealth healthcare group. She is also among the pioneer batch of nurses spearheading the set-up of the Emergency Department in Sengkang General Hospital, which is slated to open in the second half of this year. Of her current duties, Ms Khairunnisa says: “I administer medication and perform treatment procedures under stressful and time-sensitive conditions. I am also on high alert to continually assess the patients’ conditions as they may deteriorate unexpectedly.” For this she needs a firm grasp of medical knowledge and clinical experience. “As nurses, we are responsible for providing accurate information, assurance and advice to patients and their next-of-kin who rely on us for physical and emotional comfort.” Being at the frontline, her interaction with patients and their families sets the tone for the rest of their visit.

Up to the challenge

With the opening of Sengkang General Hospital, Ms Khairunnisa will work with professionals from other hospitals across the SingHealth group. There are plenty of opportunities for collaboration and training under leading specialists from a wide range of clinical disciplines. She says: “Nurses are in high demand globally. Bedside manners, nursing knowledge, skills upgrading, strong interpersonal skills and extensive nursing experience are key. “Unfortunately, some still have the misconception that being a nurse is either an easy route to career stability or a last-resort option when one has limited academic choices.” Ms Khairunnisa urges parents to be supportive and proud of their children who choose a nursing career. “It is demanding physically and emotionally, but it is also a truly inspiring and thoroughly rewarding career,” she adds. “To excel in this field, keep your ego in check as it may lead to mistakes, and there is no room for error. “Be flexible as no two patients are the same, and develop resilience to stay strong for those who need you. Be humble and foster an open learning relationship with everyone around you.”