Real-life angels: Male nurses of Singapore

Nursing might be an unlikely career choice for men in Singapore, but these six nurses had no problem breaking convention to pursue their passion. 

Ahmad Khair Syukri Bin Suparman
Ahmad Khair Syukri Bin Suparman
15/11/2016

Ahmad Khair Syukri Bin Suparman

Senior Staff Nurse from the Children’s Intensive Care Unit (CICU) at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital

As a nurse in the CICU, Ahmad takes care of children and the machines that keep them alive. On a typical day, he’s surrounded by critically ill children – some with congenital diseases, holes in their hearts, or even with their chests kept open post-operation, their hearts visible underneath a plastic sheet. There are lots of wires and the sound of machines, which Ahmad can identify individually by their alarms.

Coming from a family that worked in the healthcare sector, his father in the Facilities Management Department at KKH, his mother as a hospital clerk, and his aunt as a nurse, the decision to become a nurse came naturally for Ahmad. He’s always wanted to work in pediatrics, and feels that all children are wonderful to care for. 

How do you handle the emotional toll of nursing sick children?

I try not to have any emotions attached to the kids. Once you’re emotionally affected, your logical thinking and rationality start to decrease. If parents are crying and we’re crying, there’s no way to do our job. We’re there to support the parents and children, not to be their loved ones.

But for long-term patients, having an emotional attachment is unpreventable. We’re still humans.

What can adults can learn from these children?

To live in the moment. Adults worry about what happened before and what will happen after, but children don’t worry. They’re more carefree. Even with a tube down their throat, they can still be quite jovial. If you play with them and entertain them, they can still give you a big smile. They don’t have a “I’m sick, I can’t be happy” kind of attitude. I’ve nursed many critically ill children back to health over the years, and I find it a great pleasure. I learned how to always live in the moment from them.

Ahmad Khair Syukri Bin Suparman
Ahmad Khair Syukri Bin Suparman
15/11/2016

Ahmad Khair Syukri Bin Suparman

What's one of your favourite memories of helping a patient?

I remember a patient who had a congenital heart problem. He was just a newborn when he came to us. He needed a heart lung machine to support his heart and a ventilator to help him breathe. When he was in the ICU, we didn’t know whether he could make it. We tried our best but we weren’t very hopeful at that point in time. After several months in the hospital, the patient got better and was discharged. His parents appreciated our care and even shared their social media account with us. The child is well and healthy now; in fact he’s running around, playing. It’s quite endearing to see that the child we thought was not very hopeful is in fact doing very well. That’s very fulfilling for me as a nurse.

Are there any inconveniences or misconceptions you have to face because you’re a male nurse?

Nursing’s often viewed as a feminine profession. Some parents may think that male nurses aren’t as caring and gentle compared to female nurses. Sometimes I have the caregivers telling me that they would prefer a female nurse to care for their sick daughters. I don’t take this personally and truly understand. It’s important for the child and parents to be comfortable with our care.

Does nursing affect your love life, or has it helped you meet people?

I’m dating another nurse and we recently got engaged. The pros of having a partner in the same profession is we understand each other's work, how tiring it can be. If one of us needs to vent, the other listens. The con is sometimes it's hard for us to meet because of clashing shifts. But we do try to work it out.

 

Muhammad An-Nur Bin Abdul Rahman
Muhammad An-Nur Bin Abdul Rahman
15/11/2016

Muhammad An-Nur Bin Abdul Rahman

Staff Nurse from General Surgery at Tan Tock Seng Hospital 

During his first year as a nurse, An-Nur got punched in the head by a patient. It wasn’t shocking. The patient just needed to vent his anger, and at that moment An-Nur was conveniently standing in front of him. Recently, he got punched in the face by another patient, and yet again he brushed it off. “Sometimes I dodge the bullet. Today I did not get away,” he said with a shrug.  

In the general surgery ward, where patients are often at their most vulnerable, An-Nur’s courteous and soft-spoken demeanor comes in handy. The patients mustn’t feel like you’re judging them, he said. They won’t open up to you that way.

Eight years ago during his nursing cohort program, there were only 10 men out of 200 people. But An-Nur and his two brothers proudly signed on to become nurses with the full support of their father.  An office job never held much appeal to An-Nur anyway; his passion is working with people.

What’s the hardest thing about your job? 

It’s actually handling the demanding relatives, not the patients. Sometimes the patient may be calm, composed about their condition, but their family members may be very anxious — which is normal — but if they start to get in the way of your job, that’s quite annoying because instead of taking care of the patient, you’re trying to calm the relative down.

It can be frustrating when it’s time for the patient to go home but their caregivers, like their children, may not want to take care of them. You can’t have a patient staying here too long just because the caregiver can’t take care of them; other patients cannot get a bed that way. It’s stressful for us to deal with these social issues. Most of the time we send the patient to a social worker and lots of them end up in the nursing home. That’s the sad part. To me it’s the worst case scenario. I really try not to judge — maybe the caregivers have their own reasons — but secretly I’ll feel very disappointed. 

Muhammad An-Nur Bin Abdul Rahman
Muhammad An-Nur Bin Abdul Rahman
15/11/2016

Muhammad An-Nur Bin Abdul Rahman

In what ways do you think working as a nurse is better than working in an office job? 

Working as a nurse, it’s quite fast paced. When you talk to the patient and you do things for them, you don’t feel that time is slow. Probably in an office job you might feel that way. As a nurse you get to meet many different people every day. These sorts of dynamics teach you how to be more tolerable toward others. 

Do good looks help in the nursing industry? 

Patients want to talk to the pleasant looking ones. I’ve heard patients say, “That nurse is prettier than the other one,” and they prefer talking to the prettier nurses. I think good looks do play a part because it improves your professional image. When you look nice you feel more confident, and when you’re confident, you communicate with the patient better. 

In my experience, many female patients actually prefer male nurses. I’m way, way more gentle with female patients than male patients because I think female patients can be more sensitive and emotional because of their state. They like it when you show a lot of care and listen to their concerns intently to show that you’re sincere. 

What is it about this job that makes you think, “It’s worth it”? 

There was one patient who had an emergency tracheostomy. He stayed here for at least half a year, a very long time, then eventually he managed to go home. When he went back, he sent us a letter and we were like, “Finally. This is it.” This is what you want. You want them to get better, to go home to their family and hopefully lead a better life. Those are the really big moments when you feel like that’s why you are in the job. 

 

 

Benjamin Low
Benjamin Low
15/11/2016

Benjamin Low

Registered Nurse in Orthopaedics at Tan Tock Seng Hospital

Benjamin’s had a wrist injury for a year now. It’s from supporting a patient’s weight with his hand to stop the patient from falling. Despite no longer being able to play badminton, his favourite sport, and possibly needing surgery, Benjamin appears nonchalant about his wrist injury. Instead, he seems happiest that the patient was okay.

Nursing wasn’t his first choice – he originally wanted to study renewable energy – but in the end he chose something that was close to his character. Benjamin’s warm and easy-going personality makes him the quintessential people-person. He loves to help. Although his family initially rejected his career choice, he doesn’t regret it, no matter how crazy his days can be.

What are some misconceptions that people have about male nurses?

People feel that nurses are second-hand to doctors, that our job scope is just cleaning backsides. They find that it’s demeaning, like, “Hey you’re a degree holder, you should be doing something else. Let other people do this job.” I always ask them this question: “Do you clean your own backside or your kids’?” They say yes, then insist it’s different than from cleaning other people’s. But I say, “How is it different?” It’s mother nature to pass motion.

What’s special about the nursing community in comparison to other industries?

Generally we serve with heart. It’s not that other professions don’t serve with heart – it’s that there’s lots of empathy involved in what we do. There’s sweat and tears. When we nurse a patient long enough yet they pass on, we feel it in our hearts – but we cannot show our emotion. We have to remain professional and reassure the family members, when deep inside we feel sad because there was a bond with the patient. Other people think that we are desensitized but we’re definitely not.

Benjamin Low
Benjamin Low
15/11/2016

Benjamin Low

What’s one of the most shocking cases you’ve encountered?

A patient fell off the MRT track and his right leg was lacerated, unsalvageable. The train couldn’t stop. He was a young man in his twenties and he was very, very depressed. Imagine in less than 24 hours, you see yourself walking, then you wake up after anesthesia with your leg totally gone. The weeks after, he lost the motivation to live and didn’t want to eat or drink. I kept encouraging him and finally one day he opened up to me.

How did he open up to you?

He teared up and said, “With this accident how can I find a lady to set up my family? How do I even make a living on my own with this condition?” I patted him on the shoulder and told him he would have to focus on his priorities, let the wound heal. This gentleman was with us for a month or two, and at the end his wound was better and his mood was better. He accepted it. That’s the most satisfying moment for me, because from a depressed state he started to eat and drink. That was an achievement.

What does a girl have to be prepared for to date a nurse? 

Our days are very erratic. We don't get our roster a month ahead--we get it two weeks before. For example I don't know my next week's roster yet. It's a very last minute aspect of my work. It would be very challenging to date an office lady because they have public holidays, weekends off. That means the whole day when she's free I'll be working. 

Can you share a bit about the volunteer work that you do?

I like to sing and dance for the elderly in old folks homes. On Saturdays if I’m not working, I’ll head there to volunteer and do music therapy. For residents of nursing homes, they need to feel that they’re socially included in our society. Because they’re elderly, they want to have some form of engagement and interaction with people. These are the times I feel that it’s good to contribute back to society. I like to sing Hokkien songs. "Ai Pia Via Eh Yia," all the elderly love this song. They feel they need to strive then one day they can be out of the nursing home. There is this sense of hope.

Photo provided by Benjamin Low

Ka Wai Wong
Ka Wai Wong
15/11/2016

Ka Wai Wong

Nurse Manager, Operating Theatre at Mount Alvernia Hospital  

Nobody thought that Ka Wai Wong, known as Ah Wong by his friends and colleagues, would become a nurse. Born in Hong Kong, Ka Wai always had a rebellious streak and ran with a bad gang as a teen. Concerned, his father sent him to Singapore hoping he’d change for the better. He did okay for a while, until he was discharged from school at the age of 16. For two years, Ka Wai took up odd jobs, working in a gold factory and waitering at night, surviving on as little as $300 a month.

Those were the days before he pursued nursing. Once Ka Wai set his sights on helping patients, everything else in his own life smoothed out. Nursing has seen him from boyhood to manhood and given him the opportunity to meet his wife (also a nurse). This is Ka Wai’s fourteenth year as a nurse at Mount Alvernia.

Why did you decide to be a nurse?

I asked myself what job I could do where I would never get sacked. Nursing. For a guy as a nurse, I really have a glass escalator. Maybe because I was a boy going into this female-dominated job, I got promoted very fast. Everyone sayangs me, maybe because it’s rare.

What’s one of your favourite memories of helping a patient?

A lady came in for a difficult emergency cesarean. We had just closed her up when I heard “Hey!” and Iooked down and saw it was my car dealer, the lady who just sold me my car. Even though I was masked she had recognised my voice so she knew it was me. She ended up coming back for her second and third kids and she pointed me out and said I must be there. 

Weirdest case you’ve ever seen?

Someone was brushing his teeth and swallowed the whole toothbrush. 

Ka Wai Wong
Ka Wai Wong
15/11/2016

Ka Wai Wong

You have two kids. Do you think nursing has made you a better father?

It’s made me be a worse father because I have no time for them. Most of the time I can’t attend their parent teacher meetings. They don’t understand why other parents work from 9 to 6 but sometimes in the middle of the night I get called out to work. Or why on Sundays when we go play, I get called back again. So I try to show them what I do: I use Channel 8 for any nursing TV program and make them watch with me to show “This is what your father is doing now.” They say, “Oh, you save people? Wow.” The program “You Can Be An Angel Too” is quite accurate — except the nurses drive big fancy cars.

For me, my job has two sides. It’s worth the sacrifice because you save a lot of patients. But when you take care of the patients you neglect the most important people to you somehow. Maybe when I’m old I’ll regret not having more time with my kids.

What’s it like dating or being married to another nurse?

In nursing it’s hard to meet people outside of your work, maybe that’s why many nurses date each other. My wife and I understand our jobs and the weird hours. She’s on permanent night shift so during the day she can go home and pick up the kids.

You’ve got 14 years of nursing experience already, but do you remember how you felt when you were just starting out?

The first time I saw a brain, the brain was still moving. I was very scared. And I remember the first time I assisted in an open heart surgery and saw the heart pumping, the pace was very fast. I was just so happy to see it was still moving because the patient was still alive.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

In the Operating Theatre, our patients don’t remember us because they’re under anaesthesia. Even if they’re awake, we’re all masked so the most they can see is our eyes. Outside when they see me they won’t recognise me — they don’t know that I helped them. We are the unsung heroes. But for us, it’s no problem. I work not because of their thank you letter, I work for the patient. We saved a life, that’s most important.  

Luther Yiew
Luther Yiew
15/11/2016

Luther Yiew

Senior Staff Nurse from the Children’s Emergency (CE) at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital

During Luther’s National Service, he got an infection and had to be hospitalised. The nurses who cared for him after his surgery were patient and kept him calm when he was in pain. The experience left an indelible mark on Luther, and it was one of the reasons he wanted to be a nurse. He was inspired to help people just as those nurses had helped him.

A graduate of National University of Singapore, Luther is now a senior staff nurse in Children’s Emergency at KKH, where there’s an average of 700 patients per day. Part of Luther’s job is to assess and prioritise the patients based on the severity of their medical emergencies — a tough call to make when every single parent is anxious for their child to be seen immediately, and the waiting time for non-emergency cases can take up to 6 hours. Tension is high, tempers flare up, but amidst it all Luther calmly reassures parents and caregivers with empathy.

When you’re seeing 700 patients every day, it’s easy for them to become numbers. But to Luther, they’re not just numbers. They’re patients, they’re children, they’re 700 individual lives.  

What’s one of the most shocking or unusual cases you’ve seen?

A kid jumped over a fence and his leg got stuck. The firemen brought the kid in with the whole segment, about a meter long of the fence. It had to be sawed to a smaller piece before we could move him to the operating theatre.

I also see a lot of kids swallowing objects. Coins, building blocks, buttons, green beans are very common. Any hole they have in their body they will just put it. It’s so common that I don’t find it strange anymore.

Luther Yiew
Luther Yiew
15/11/2016

Luther Yiew

How has your job made you a better person?

I probably had low EQ before I started this journey but now I can tell when someone is anxious just by looking at their faces. My job makes me more patient. The more anxious a parent is, the slower I speak to them. I’m able to use that soft skill to tell them that their child is okay and stable enough. I’m thankful for my low and calming voice, which reassures sick children as I can often distract them while we stitch their wound. Occasionally, it puts them to sleep.

What are some of the lesser-known perks of being a nurse?

We work about 42 hours a week, which is actually less than office hours. Working shifts allows me to have time outside work to pursue my hobbies like singing. The best thing is after work I don’t have to carry work home. I don’t have to think about work after my shift. The monetary and fringe benefits of nursing are good, and I love my job.

What should a girl be prepared for to date or marry a nurse?

Ninety percent of us do shift work. If you’re going to date a nurse you have to accept that and be really flexible. Sometimes you won’t be able to meet your boyfriend more than once a week because our shifts are not regular.

But I think being a nurse would probably make me a better spouse because I know what is severe and not. I can tell my wife not to panic, how to take care of the child. I believe that nursing will make any man be a better son, grandson, husband and father.

 Photo provided by Luther Yiew

Yeo Si Sen
Yeo Si Sen
15/11/2016

Yeo Si Sen

Senior Staff Nurse from Neurology/Neurosurgery at Singapore General Hospital

Some patients are in the hospital for something quick: stitches, childbirth, treatment for infection, a brief hospitalisation then they’re out the door, resuming their independence as before. Then there are the patients Si Sen overseas: people whose lives are drastically altered, who require around-the-clock care after discharge and rehab. In Neurology/Neurosurgery, patients who have had strokes often go from being mobile and independent to dependent or bed bound.

It can be overwhelming for the whole family. Everyone, not just the patient, has to adapt — and if they’re sent home without any guidance, they’ll panic. It’s Si Sen’s role as a Patient Advocator to help them transition.

Si Seng shepherds them through care options and resources like government grants and programs to help ease financial burdens. He feels relief when, because of his help, a patient is saved from going to a nursing home. He not only takes care of patients when they’re in the hospital, but prepares them for the road ahead as well.

Have you ever been inspired by a patient?

There was a Parkinson’s patient who wasn’t so good with his walking, yet he was very positive with his illness. A lot of Parkinson’s patients just stay at home. Not this patient. He was very active in the community and went out to socialise. He’d attend his Parkinson’s support group every week and really looked forward to it. In the ward he’d ask for some plain paper to do sketching, although he has to slouch when he sits because of his illness. It was his motivation that was inspiring.

Yeo Si Seng
Yeo Si Seng
15/11/2016

Yeo Si Seng

What about a time when you were inspired or uplifted by a patient’s family?

I have a patient now who had a stroke and requires rehab, and even after rehab he’ll require 24-hour care. His children don’t earn that much, below average, but straight away they wanted to source a good maid for their father. Usually when a family’s finances are a bit tight, when you tell them that hiring a maid is an option, they wouldn’t consider — until you tell them about a government grant that could help. But for these children their concern was care first. They could put aside financial constraints.

What makes you good at your job?

I’m quite patient and I mind my language. Our patients are not like the customers in the SIA and shopping centres, those customers who are happy traveling or shopping. Our customers are worried and stressed. If your tone is soft, it helps. You must coax and motivate them.

One patient would ask me every night, “Why am I here?” Every night he will forget. Then one night he lost his temper. He grabbed a chair and wanted to hit me, but I said, “Take a seat first. We’ll talk. We are guys we just talk.”

Prior to becoming a nurse, you were a engineer, insurance salesman, freelance recruitment agent, and relief teacher. Why the switch to nursing?

I’m able to help people. After a certain age your mindset changes a bit. Last time it was all about money, now it’s partially about helping.

Does your job ever get emotionally draining?

So far it’s been okay. But it does make me reflect on myself. When you see the patient in their conditions, sometimes it’s because of their lifestyle. For alcoholics you may see the big tummy because of liver failure, then sometimes you look at the diabetic patient and they got [sic] no more legs. It makes me want to take good care of myself, my lifestyle for when I’m older.

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