Think of a nurse, and most would assume that the bulk of their work comes from administrative duties and patient care.
After all, if you’ve ever been to a hospital ward, that’s what is often seen – nurses handling registration and admission for patients, and making their rounds every few hours to dispense medication to those under their care.
Beyond these routine duties, nurses do a whole lot more that requires the perfect balance of passion and professionalism.
This Nurses’ Day, The Pride speaks to two nurses to find out what exactly it takes to be part of the nursing profession.
They separate emotions from work but they’re not unfeeling
“Sometimes, we can’t help but feel for the patients and their family when we hear about their story. But regardless of what we feel, we have to deal with our emotions and get things done,” said 26-year-old Genevieve Gan.
Working in Changi General Hospital’s (CGH) Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU), Gan finds herself having to offer emotional support to family members but makes it a point not to “bring it outside the ward”.
It may seem detached but that emotional resilience is an important tool in their arsenal that will determine whether the nurse can keep calm or crack under the pressure.
Gan also revealed that there have been nurses who transferred out of the SICU department because they could not work well in high-pressure situations. Gan cited two important traits that make one suitable to work in the SICU – the ability to think critically and to make a decision quickly.
She explained that SICU nurses deal with a lot of resuscitation cases and unforeseen circumstances, so it’s essential to “remain calm and get the work done”.
Knowledge is key
According to Gan, working in the SICU means having to know your patients well – be it their admission history, social background or psychological needs – to be able to provide the best care.
SICU nurses must also undergo a advanced diploma course before they can operate equipment like the dialysis machines and handle more complex and unstable patients.
Called the Advanced Diploma in Nursing (Critical Care), and offered in both Ngee Ann and Nanyang Polytechnic, the course focuses on intensive care and better equips the SICU nurses.
For 28-year-old Michelle Segal, a nurse clinician who’s been in the profession for nine years, knowledge on the job also goes beyond just academic qualifications and patient care.
Speaking to The Pride, she said: “One of the best moments was the opportunity to share my research and its implementation towards evidence based practice at the Institute for HealthCare Improvement’s (IHI) annual conference in Orlando back in 2014.”
The international conference is a yearly gathering of leaders and frontline practitioners in the medical industry where the best minds can come together to explore ways to improve healthcare globally.
“Knowledge is constantly evolving in the medical industry. Even from the time you’re studying, to the time you enter the workforce, things can change. Nurses have to update themselves to keep up,” she said.
The battles they fight might be even bigger than you think
Nurses aren’t glorified maids. Far from that, they go through extensive training that includes three years of vocational training and a further eight months of specialised training, and offer invaluable expertise to any medical response.
In fact, Gan says SICU nurses are “quite outspoken”. With the wealth of patient care experience under their belts, they may sometimes consult further with the doctors on patient prescriptions if they feel that the treatment could be tailored further or better.
Despite the important role that nurses play in the medical profession, Segal highlighted that nurses tend to face a lack of recognition and acknowledgement of what they do.
She was once called a “glorified maid”, someone who is paid to do what a maid does in a hospital. “There is also the perception that we do not have the skills and knowledge of the patient’s disease, the related treatments and we are simply on the job to bathe and feed patients,” she added.
Taking these prejudices and misconceptions in her stride, she acknowledges that they “are part and parcel of any industry or organisation you work with” and looks at them as a challenge to “raise the bar to better individuals” and “to be more competent health care professionals”.
Segal explained: “The focus should always be the bigger picture: How do we ensure that we provide safe, reliable and efficient care? That drives me towards solutions, situations and opportunities that challenge these prejudices, misconceptions and help to level down discrimination.”
There is no ‘I’ in team
However stoic nurses may be on the job, dealing with mortality and death on a daily basis can take its toll on anyone in the medical profession.
For that, Gan is grateful for the camaraderie that she has developed in the SICU, citing it as an important support system.
She replied: “One of the things I’m very thankful for is good colleagues. We have very good teamwork and if you encounter a patient that suddenly deteriorates, you’ll suddenly find a group of colleagues who come in and ask if you need anything. They make the work day better.”
Looking beyond the walls of the hospital, Segal said: “Having the support of my loved ones and even finding time to exercise and doing the things that I love to do outside of work; they help me stay focused, especially during trying times.”
Sharing a memory of a young patient who died from cancer, Segal recalled: “Though she passed away peacefully, I felt like life was unfair. She was so young and she even went through all the available treatments. My family talked to me and helped me to look at death from a different perspective. I came to accept it and now, I’m not afraid of it.”
Facing situations of life and death with nerves of steel, while lending medical expertise with a compassionate touch – being a nurse is by no means easy.
In fact, if there’s any one lesson to learn this Nurses Day, perhaps it’s that they’re stronger than they look, and stronger than we give them credit for.
As Segal puts it: “You make yourself emotionally, psychologically and physically stronger than the day before so you can give better the next.”