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How empathy for the elderly sparked her passion for nursing
By Audrey Ang
Third-year nursing student Lee Sze Hwee hopes to work with the elderly and make a difference in the field of community care. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA

A clinical attachment with St Luke’s Hospital opened this Community Care scholar’s eyes to the growing needs of the ageing population

During her first-year clinical attachment at St Luke’s Hospital, nursing student Lee Sze Hwee encountered an elderly patient who had a severe stroke.

The stroke left the patient with impaired speech, making it difficult for her to verbalise her needs. She got visibly agitated until Ms Lee calmed her down by holding her hand.

Stirred by a deep sense of empathy and compassion, Ms Lee would visit the patient during her free time at work. She discovered that simply by being present, she could help assuage the patient’s feelings of loneliness and fear of being alone in a foreign environment.

Through these little pockets of heartwarming moments, the 22-year-old discovered her soft spot for the elderly. Her experience also strengthened her conviction to pursue nursing as a career.

She applied for the Community Nursing Scholarship offered by MOH Holdings (MOHH) in 2020 and is currently in her third year pursuing a degree in nursing at the Alice Lee Centre for Nursing Studies at the National University of Singapore.

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Since young, Ms Lee had always been interested in nursing. While she originally thought of becoming a paediatric nurse, her recent 10-week-long clinical attachment at St Luke’s Hospital opened her eyes to the growing needs of another vulnerable group – the elderly.

Singapore’s population is ageing rapidly. According to the Ministry of Health, it became an aged society in 2017 and is set to attain “super-aged” status in 2026. By 2030, one in four citizens will be aged 65 and above, up from one in six currently.

Even as the nation expands its community care initiatives to reduce the load on acute care hospitals, there remains a shortage of community nurses. These nurses work in community hospitals and community care facilities, and if they are part of the home care team, they may also be sent to patients’ homes who require home nursing care.

Broad set of skills

During her attachments, Ms Lee discovered that a nursing career in the community care sector allows her to care for patients in a more holistic manner as compared to a hospital environment.

“I enjoyed interacting with patients and asking about their lives,” she says. “I also found it extremely heartwarming when I saw how doting the nurses were towards their patients, especially the long-staying ones in the ward, and how they cheered them up.”

There, she also picked up various skills – from dressing wounds to dispensing medications orally, intravenously or subcutaneously.

She had to chart down each patient’s progress and full body assessments for every shift. This made her realise that community nurses play a critical role and are heavily involved in the patient’s recovery journey.

“As our population ages, there is a greater need for more hands in this field. Ultimately, it solidified my desire to be someone in the position to show love to the ones who need it the most.”

Ms Lee Sze Hwee, recipient of the Community Nursing Scholarship

In addition, she also had to learn how to conduct caregiver training to equip caregivers with the skills and knowledge in aiding patients in their daily activities, or administering their medications.

“I have a long career path ahead and there will be different opportunities open to me,” she says. “It is too early to say where I will end up, but this is where I currently find joy in my nursing career.”

Different nursing specialties

Apart from interacting with patients and their caregivers, Ms Lee’s work experience in community care enabled her to gain a better understanding of the pivotal role nurses play as part of the multidisciplinary team for dementia, palliative, rehabilitation and wound care patients at St Luke’s Hospital.

For instance, dressing patients’ wounds and administering treatments have piqued her interest in the wound care specialty. She also got to explore other specialties like palliative care during her posting.

“Recently, I have also been considering specialising in palliative care as I find the field of pain management fascinating,” says Ms Lee. “I am also interested in home nursing, which would be a unique change of environment away from the bedside.”

Initially, when she first started in the field, she was not aware of the diverse learning opportunities that community nursing offered.

However, after interacting with more experienced nurses during her first-year and third-year attachments, she realised that there are numerous career pathways for nurses in community care.

“I look forward to the wide range of avenues I can branch out into once I graduate,” she says.

From classroom to bedside

Being able to apply in the real world the theories she learnt in school – from the names of drugs and their contraindications to the pathophysiology of diseases – made the postings with St Luke’s Hospital even more fulfilling for Ms Lee.

“I truly enjoy being able to use my hands on the job and growing in my competency when it comes to tasks such as administering injections or priming IV lines,” says Ms Lee.

The staff at St Luke’s Hospital were extremely welcoming, she adds.

“They were all eager to teach and guide me. They even showed me procedures that were way beyond my syllabus,” she recounts. “It was endearing to have been met with such warmth.”

Ms Lee has also come to realise that getting her degree is simply just the beginning of her nursing career. It is a job that requires lifelong learning to continuously expand her knowledge and skills.

Since taking up the scholarship, she has become more aware of the urgent needs of Singapore’s rapidly ageing community.

“As our population ages, there is a greater need for more hands in this field,” she says. “Ultimately, it solidified my desire to be someone in the position to show love to the ones who need it the most.”

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