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Always ready to care

If you are worried about being tied down by a scholarship bond, Ms Cassandra Wong’s view may change your mind.

The staff nurse at the National University Hospital (NUH) sees a bond as a guarantee for a job upon graduation “so you don’t have to go through the process of applying for jobs and preparing for interviews”.

After finishing her O levels in 2006, Ms Wong took on a temporary job as a radiography assistant at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

The job experience, and her innate desire to help others, piqued her interest to work in a hospital.

Although she decided to pursue a diploma in biomedical science at Temasek Polytechnic then, she had her doubts as her parents had told her nursing would be tough.

After her graduation, she did administrative work at Girl Guides  Singapore for three months.

It was only when she saw how the nurses at Bright Vision Hospital cared for her cancer-stricken grandfather that she decided on a nursing career.

In 2011, she was awarded a Cluster Health Science and Nursing Scholarship by MOH Holdings (MOHH).

MOHH owns public healthcare groups that include National University Health System (NUHS), National Healthcare Group, Singapore Health Services, Alexandra Health System, Jaron Health Services and Eastern Health Alliance.

The scholarship helped to ease the financial burden on her family as her brothers were about to pursue university and polytechnic studies.

It covers a one-off $1,850 pre-studies allowance and hostel allowance, as well as other approved expenses, including uniforms and nursing shoes.

“I could focus on my studies without having to worry about tuition fees,” recalls Ms Wong, 26, who pursued a four-year nursing degree at the Alice Lee Centre for Nursing Studies, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at National University of Singapore.

Passionate and approachable teachers aside, she found that the school’s comprehensive facilities such as a simulated clinical environment and course materials — from dressing sets to urinary catheterisation sets — helped her to better understand real-life scenarios and the challenges that nurses face every day.

She says: “One important takeaway for me was documentation, and how proper records of actions taken can facilitate communication and handover between staff.

“I was placed on attachment programmes where I honed my time management skills, enabling me to spend quality time with patients.

“I also learnt that nursing research was essential if we are to improve the care that we provide.”

After her bond was transferred to NUHS when she joined NUH in 2012, Ms Wong was awarded a monthly allowance of $1,000.

Juggling Act

While the financial aid helped, Ms Wong had to juggle academic assignments with caring for her newborn daughter during her third year of studies.

This meant completing as much as possible at school, during which her mother looked after the infant, so she could devote her attention to her daughter when she returned home.

Prioritising her commitments meant she missed some activities, including an overseas community involvement programme, especially since she was also breastfeeding her baby.

Advocate For A Cause

Encouraging mothers to breastfeed became a cause close to Ms Wong’s heart after being with NUH’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for five months.

She feels strongly about it because she learnt that premature infants who are breastfed have a lower risk of contracting necrotising enterocolitis, a disease that causes tissue death in the gut. Thus, she is always ready to help her patients in this area.

Ms Wong, who did a one-year stint with the paediatric ward, is the first to admit that breastfeeding is not as easy as it appears.

“I struggled with breastfeeding my daughter initially, but with support from my family and lactation consultants, I kept at it and managed to breastfeed her until she was 22 months old,” says Ms Wong, whose daughter is now three years old. She also has an eight-month-old son.

As part of a nurse residency programme by NUHS, she has completed lessons such as mindfulness and conflict management, as well as conducted an evidence- based project in the ward.

While she aspires to be a lactation consultant or nurse educator in future, she is taking small steps to keep learning for now, as she gains experience from being rotated among various departments.