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From Combat Medic to Community Nurse With The Help of A Healthcare Scholarship by MOHH

Nicholas Woong is a recipient of the Community Nursing Scholarship and will be pursuing a Bachelor of Science (Nursing) (Honours) degree at the Alice Lee Centre for Nursing Studies, National University of Singapore.

Whether it’s midnight emergency cases or army training injuries and even a fatality, Nicholas Woong has seen it all.

After completing his A-Levels at River Valley High School (RVHS), he intended to pursue a degree in Electrical Engineering at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

But as it turned out, this wouldn’t be the case for Nicholas.

Touched by the healthcare professionals who attended to his grandparents and inspired by colleagues during his National Service (NS), Nicholas would instead choose to switch things up by moving over from Electrical Engineering to Nursing.

Planting The Seeds For A Career in Healthcare

When he was a teenager, Nicholas spent hours visiting his maternal and paternal grandparents at various community hospitals. And it was here that he found himself empathising with the bedridden patients there.

But at the same time, he was especially moved by the dedication and compassion displayed by the healthcare staff at such facilities.

In his own words, "It bothered me how lonely and quiet life is for long-term care patients. They can only lie in bed and not do anything else."

Most of the time, the only thing that they can look forward to is visits from their children and grandchildren. And even though they were swamped, the nurses at the community hospital tried to make life as pleasant as possible for their patients — this was something that touched me".

Back then, Nicholas didn't give much thought to such notions, dismissing them as just feelings. But looking back, this was likely one of many factors that would inspire this young man to take up a career in community nursing.

Answering The Call

A few years later, Nicholas was called up for his NS. After completing his Basic Military Training (BMT), he was posted to the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Medical Corps.

Recognising his potential, Nicholas was selected to become a Combat Medic, and it was here that he first began exploring the world of healthcare.

During his NS, Nicholas earned the rank of 3rd Sergeant and was based at Kranji Camp. This was one of the busiest camps on the mainland, with nearly 3,000 men stationed there. Kranji Camp’s medical centre operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so things can get very hectic quickly.

Nicholas found himself dealing with emergency cases and managed the health of the personnel at Kranji Camp. Much of his work involved primary medical treatment, such as treating heat stroke, dehydration, and fractures, along with other more complicated cases.

But as he puts it, "I enjoyed my work as a combat medic. It's a very rewarding vocation, and it felt like I was making a difference in people's lives.

Vaccinating Singapore

Even as COVID-19 was raging throughout Singapore, Nicholas and members of the SAF remained operationally ready. The SAF Medical Corps administered the COVID-19 vaccine to key appointment holders, healthcare workers, and vulnerable individuals.

As members of the SAF Medical Corps, Nicholas and his colleagues were called upon to participate in the national vaccination programme by the Ministry of Health. One of the most common challenges faced during this period was dealing with nervous individuals.

"My team and I also had to carefully explain the benefits of taking the vaccine to our patients. Most people were rather nervous, but I think having someone friendly and patient to guide them through the process made it a lot easier," says Nicholas.

Participating in the national vaccination programme was one of his proudest achievements, giving him a real sense of purpose. And it was during this time that he began wondering if a career in the healthcare sector would be something for him.

Operationally-Ready: Life After NS

After reaching his operationally ready date (ORD), Nicholas wanted to learn more about the healthcare sector, so he took up a role as a clinic assistant at a private medical clinic. And it was an eye-opening experience that proved to be both rewarding and demanding in equal measures.

Instead of fractures, heat stroke, and training injuries, Nicholas would now deal with community-focused health issues, which meant flu, rashes, and vaccinations. His other duties included performing triage and conducting ART and PCR tests.

For those unfamiliar, triage refers to "The sorting of and allocation of treatment to patients and especially battle and disaster victims according to a system of priorities designed to maximise the number of survivors."

And thanks to his army experience and cool head, Nicholas would be the perfect man for the job. However, it wasn't all sunshine and roses as this was during the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak in Singapore.

Due to mandatory social distancing requirements, wait times were extended, and patients would get angry and impatient.

One memorable incident Nicholas shared with us was when one of the clinic's patients lost their temper and verbally abused staff. While stressed out and under pressure, Nicholas kept his cool and politely explained the situation to the angry patient.

This calmed the patient down and defused much of the tension but they continued complaining and announced that they would be leaving a negative review.

Nicholas explained that this was all part of the job and should be taken in stride. The key here is not to take things personally and keep moving forwards.

Unfortunately, such incidences are common and shows us how underappreciated healthcare professionals are. From personal sacrifices they need to make to the stresses of the job, taking up a profession in the healthcare sector is one that calls for both passion and tremendous amounts of patience.

Friends, Family, and Mentors

Whether they're influencing our decisions or inspiring us to go the extra mile, friends and mentors have a critical role in our lives. In Nicholas's case, he credits the medical officers he served with and several professors from the National Institute of Education (NIE) as being inspirational figures in his life.

In his own words, "When I was feeling lost, I reached out to both my superiors and professors I met when I participated in NTU’s Nanyang Research Programme (NRP). They advised me to go with my instincts and helped me better understand the healthcare sector. And I can definitely say that this is what convinced me to make the shift from Electrical Engineering to Nursing.”

However, before he could truly commit himself, there was one more thing that Nicholas had to do, and that was speaking with his parents. As any young Singaporean will tell you, when it comes to the older generation, education is a deadly serious matter.

Fortunately, Nicholas's parents were extremely supportive of his decision and encouraged him to make the shift.

As he puts it, “My parents were surprised by the sudden change. But at the same time, they encouraged me to pursue my passion. And this is something I’ll always be grateful for.”

So, armed with a new sense of direction, Nicholas set out to pave his way into the world of nursing. And this is where he came across MOH Holdings's (MOHH) Healthcare Scholarships Instagram page. Inspired by the stories of various scholars, Nicholas was galvanised and immediately submitted his application for a Community Nursing Scholarship.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Currently, Nicholas is pursuing a Bachelor of Science (Nursing) (Honours) degree at the Alice Lee Centre for Nursing Studies, National University of Singapore (NUS).

The 4-year honours programme covers all aspects of patient care that professional nurses are expected to master. In addition, there is a heavy emphasis on both academic knowledge and practical skills, which is essential for producing well-rounded nurses. The programme also requires participants to put together a portfolio demonstrating their research experience and to complete a thesis.

As he was first inspired by the nurses he encountered in various community care hospitals, Nicholas intends to specialise in community nursing upon the completion of his degree. After that, he hopes to move into the clinical side of nursing and participate in various research programs.

When asked about his long-term plans, he responded with this, "I want to make a change in the healthcare sector for the better. This includes improving the quality of life for my patients and optimising hospital operations. I also intend to branch out into the research side of nursing and improve myself professionally."

Advice For Future Generations

Before ending our interview, we asked Nicholas if he had any advice for anyone looking to follow in his footsteps. His advice is as follows:

"You first need to know what you're getting into. During my younger days, I often felt lost and had no idea what I wanted to do with myself. A career as a healthcare professional is extremely demanding, and you need to be prepared to make sacrifices in the name of the greater good."

He adds, "Ask yourself this: do you have a strong desire to care for others, and are you willing to put in the time and effort?"

"If you are, you'll have no problem making it as a healthcare professional."

For anyone feeling unsure about their direction in life, Nicholas wants you to know that "Not everyone walks the same path. It's up to you to find out what works for you. And when you do find it, give it your all, and everything else will fall into place."

Inspired by Nicholas's story? If you are, you may want to consider a career in community nursing.

MOH Holdings (MOHH) is currently offering scholarships to nurture the next generation of community nursing leaders. It is offered in partnership with the public healthcare institutions and community care providers. For more details, check out our website here.