A Brave Step
"It was very scary going back to school after 40 years," recalled Khoo Liang Teck of the brave step he took in 2010.
That year, he had chosen to undergo a certificate programme in nursing care and was deeply excited at the prospect of beginning a new career in nursing. Yet he had butterflies in his stomach in the weeks leading to the start of his course.
His friends were shocked too when they learnt of his career decision. Liang Teck was known to be a happy cabby who had enjoyed a stable livelihood for many years, so no one expected him to call it quits. And with no experience of taking care of the sick, except as a medical orderly during his national service, his choice was all the more surprising to those around him!
Following His Heart
Unknown to many, Liang Teck has always had a heart for the sick. After plying the streets as a cabby for 15 years, he finally plucked up his courage to join the healthcare industry with the support of his wife.
"It was not easy to start from scratch," said Liang Teck who was 50 years old when he took up a Certificate in Healthcare Support (Nursing Care) in 2010.
"I was the oldest in the whole school. All the people in school were so much younger and their ‘lingo' was so different from mine. I had to make extra effort to blend in and speak their language.
"I had no problem studying, but schools now are so different. We need to use the computer and internet for so many things. But I didn't know much about computers or how to use them, so I had a terrible time in the beginning. Luckily I had good coursemates. They accepted me and helped me whenever I could not figure things out on my own."
Liang Teck's interest in his studies also gave him strength and courage to soldier on. The modules on nursing care, anatomy and behavioural science exposed him to topics he had always been interested in and this spurred him to learn all he could.
At the same time, he found inspiration in the classes of Mr Jonathan Sim, his anatomy instructor. Mr Sim's encouraging sharings of the various paths in nursing, the skill and career upgrades available helped him look beyond and chart his future.
With his heart set on building a career in nursing, Liang Teck decided to pursue a Higher Certificate and Advanced Certificate in Healthcare Support (Nursing Care) after completing his first Certificate in the same course.
Following which, he underwent the NITEC in Nursing at ITE Simei and graduated in April 2015.
A Pillar of Strength
An Enrolled Nurse at the Singapore General Hospital now, his career as a nurse started in the renal ward, taking care of patients warded for various renal diseases and kidney disorders.
"Taking care of people who are not well is definitely a challenge. Their difficulties can make them demanding and they get frustrated easily. I've definitely got my share of scolding from our patients. Very often, I have to wait for them to cool down, then explain patiently the things that made them frustrated," he shared with a smile.
"But it's also very fulfilling being able to provide comfort and relief. No matter how small the action may be, it's always a joy to see them smile and know that they feel better. I am very happy whenever they recover and it's time for them to go home." At the end of 2015, Liang Teck was rotated to the dialysis centre to gain exposure in other areas of renal care. Here, he maintains the dialysis machines, operates the equipment to filter patients' blood toxins, extra salt and fluid from their bodies, as well as advises them on nutrition and hygiene.
"Whether in the ward or in the dialysis centre, there are always issues to look into and patients who need our attention. With patients more educated these days, they want to be in the know about their condition and what they can or cannot do. More often than not, their families have many questions for us too.
"But as nurses, our role goes beyond attending to our patients' physical needs. We need to build relationships with them and their families, provide a listening ear and help them be as comfortable as we can," he added.
Liang Teck's empathy is certainly treasured by everyone around him. Patients have bought him coffee to show their appreciation. One male elderly patient even told him he makes a good nurse.
Among his co-workers, Liang Teck is valued as a source of wisdom and strength. He often shares his life experiences with them, and opens them to insights from the perspective of an older person. His younger colleagues look up to him as a fatherly figure as well and often turn to him for advice when facing difficulties.
"I'm very glad I had the courage to follow my heart into nursing. As a cabby, I could take people to their destinations, but now as a nurse I can journey with the sick and their families through their sickness and nurse them to health – something not every profession or everybody has the ability to do.
"As our population ages and our families become smaller, we'll need nurses more than ever. To anyone who has a heart for the sick, do not be afraid to take up this wonderful profession for our greatest reward comes in being able to give to all those in need of care at the most vulnerable times of their lives."