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A light in the darkness

DURING his secondary school days, radiographer Nurhisyam Norhalim travelled five hours every day from his home in Johor Bahru to Temasek Secondary School and back. “It was taxing at first, but my siblings and I eventually grew accustomed to it,” he recalls. “Surprisingly, it was the constant questions from curious classmates and requests to see my passport that were the real bother.” In 2010, he went on a new journey, heading to Melbourne to pursue his Bachelor of Radiography and Medical Imaging in Monash University. Mr Norhalim has no particular epiphany to share; no Eureka moment that opened his eyes to the profession. Rather, it was a passing, almost throwaway conversation with his father about his future specialisation that first piqued his interest in radiography. Curious, he read up more about the subject. As a biomedical sciences student in Republic Polytechnic (RP), he discovered that he could choose Medical Imaging as a second-year specialisation — an open door to radiography for him. It almost seemed like he was fated to pursue it as a career. But for every sign he received about training to become a radiographer, it seemed that fate was also out to stop him.

Obstacles ahead

Upon graduating from RP in in 2009, he was stymied by the system. At that time, aspiring radiographers in Singapore had to take the Advanced Diploma in Radiography course at Nanyang Polytechnic; the course prerequisite was an A-Level certificate, which Mr Norhalim did not have. Going overseas for studies would have required him to take up two bank loans just to afford the tuition fees. Mr Norhalim was determined to fulfil his dream even though it would take him more than 10 years just to pay off the loans, so he bit the bullet and boarded the flight to Melbourne. But his prospects turned darker still as he entered his first semester at Monash. His background in medical imaging granted him credit exemptions and fast-tracked him to the third year. However, not having the radiography training his peers received, Mr Norhalim found himself completely lost during lectures and practical sessions. The determined undergraduate started attending the first- and second-year classes on top of his own course load, in order to catch up with his fellow radiography students. “It was a crash course in radiography,” he recalls. “Think Hermione and her Time-Turner from the Harry Potter movie — except without the Time-Turner!” he says with a laugh.

Thankfully, the faculty was very supportive of his endeavours, as were the fellow Singaporean radiography students in Monash. Most of all, it was Mr Norhalim’s determination to succeed that kept him afloat, through all the sleepless nights and hours of back-to-back classes. “I did not want to disappoint the people who had helped me get this far, especially my father, a biomedical engineer, who worked so hard to help me pursue my career,” he recalls. As it turns out, Mr Norhalim need not have worried. His first semester results were stellar, catching the attention of the assessment panel for MOH Holdings’ Healthcare Merit Award. His subsequent receipt of the award covered his airfare and tuition fees, allowing him to graduate debt-free. On his choice of posting to Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), the radiographer says: “It is one of Singapore’s busiest hospitals, and has provided me with ample opportunities to develop my skills. “There’s always something new to see and learn,” he says. Arguably the most important thing he has learned is how challenging it is to be an Allied Health Professional, such as a radiographer or occupational therapist. The behind-the-scenes nature of the job means it is easy to feel underappreciated; this is especially true for radiographers, says Mr Norhalim, as they typically spend only a matter of minutes with their patients in the X-ray room. Still, he takes great satisfaction in what he does: “Diagnostic radiology plays an integral role in determining the diagnosis of the patient. “Being able to help patients to find the source of their problem is truly satisfying, as it is the first step to getting them the right treatment,” he says. “My job is as rewarding as it is demanding.”