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A stroke of passion

EVERY day, Ms Cassandra Chen, 26, a staff nurse at Alexandra Health Services (AHS), faces patients suffering from acute stroke.

After providing basic bedside nursing care at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital’s (KTPH) Acute Stroke Unit (ASU) each morning, she will go on rounds with the doctors to discuss the latest plans for their patients.

It is difficult work, but Ms Chen, who has been in this job for three years, embraces the joys and challenges that come her way.

She says: “I love that I am always learning something new each day, not just in terms of medical knowledge, but also from my patients.

“It is also exciting to try and predict the diagnosis of the patients by their clinical presentations without looking at the scan reports.”

Nursing aspirations

Ms Chen’s passion in nursing led her to pursue a four-year Bachelor of Nursing (Honours) programme at the National University of Singa-
pore (NUS) in 2010. During a student attachment at the end of her freshman year, Ms Chen was ecstatic to find out that KTPH offered a nursing scholarship.

She was drawn to KTPH because as one of the newer hospitals in Singapore, it possesses a uniquely therapeutic environment with lush greenery and state-of-the-art facilities.

KTPH would also sponsor her education and provide a comfortable monthly allowance.

She recalls: “I also felt that making the commitment to this scholarship is a starting point for me in my professional development as a nurse.

“While some may think the scholarship bond is an unnecessary burden, I choose to see it as a learning opportunity that provides much-needed job security.”

Her decision to accept the Health Science & Nursing Scholarship (Cluster) — now known as Healthcare Merit Award — met with some family resistance.

Ms Chen’s father did not approve of her career choice as he felt that nursing was a “dirty” job that did not pay well. He even offered to sponsor her to study abroad, in a bid to dissuade her from taking up the scholarship.

Nevertheless, she decided to follow her heart and pursue a nursing degree and, in the process, prove to her father that nursing is a respectable profession that plays a vital role in society.

She says: “What motivated me the most was perhaps the dream of volunteering with Doctors

Without Borders, an international humanitarian organisation that provides medical aid to places where it is needed most, such as developing countries like Africa.

“My nursing degree has equipped me with the necessary skills to achieve my dream some day.”

Asking the right questions

During her undergraduate days at NUS, Ms Chen enjoyed the simulation sessions where students worked on mannequins that were able to talk and exhibit signs and symptoms similar to patients in hospitals.

Non-nursing modules were also available as part of the NUS curriculum.

She says: “We are proud to say that gone are the days when nurses blindly followed doctors’ orders.

“Instead, we are taught to question their decisions when in doubt and provide the best practice that is evidence-based.”

The scholarship has provided Ms Chen with many opportunities as a fresh graduate, many of which she believes she would not have received if she had not been a scholar.

For example, she had the privilege of joining the nursing research team within KTPH and getting her university thesis published.

In October last year, she attained an Advanced Diploma in Neuroscience from Nanyang Polytechnic, also sponsored by KTPH.

“In the Acute Stroke Unit, early rehabilitation and prevention of recurrent stroke are important.

“Being a neuro-trained nurse, I am also equipped with the knowledge and skills to conduct health assessments and detect early deterioration of my patients, especially in the first few days post-stroke,” she says.

Ms Chen acknowledges that being a nurse is not an easy job, especially when there is shift work involved.

“A lot is required to be a good nurse. You need to have the heart to care for others, a willingness to learn and be a good team player,” she says.