13 July 2017
This juncture of their nursing journey is particularly challenging and exciting. Our graduates are leaving nursing school during the greatest transformation of healthcare delivery ever known to this nation. Singapore is combating and grappling with the challenges brought about by an ageing population, and inevitably, our graduates will be part of this army.
With graduation, their sheltered student days have come to a close. How they respond to these challenges will determine their ability to sustain themselves, and eventually their success, in the profession.
I have three pieces of advice for the Class of 2017. These may hold the rescue code to the toughest obstacle that they may have to face in the coming six months: the human factor!
Advice #1: Graduates need to build good relationships with colleagues
There are many aspects to achieving good relationships, but I want to highlight two: embrace diversity and cultivate mutual respect.
The nursing profile is becoming more mixed - we have nurses from other countries, increased ethnic diversity, and an increasing number of roles and specialties within one profession. In the workplace, our graduates need to move on from just tolerating differences to understanding and appreciating them.
They need to appreciate each other's strengths in order to harness the power of diversity. Believe that diversity can be a strength, and get to know the diverse communities within the hospitals. Our graduates need to make effort to build trust among colleagues and foster long-term friendships.
Next, our graduates have to respect their colleagues - all of them! They mustn't think more of themselves than they ought to. They have to treat one another with grace, professionalism and respect as they are all in this profession together as a team. Just as poet William Butler Yeats, wrote, “Though the leaves are many, the root is one.” Different healthcare professionals might have different paths, but in the best cases, these paths ultimately lead back to the patient.
I hope each of them will always remember that while the leaves of healthcare are many, the root is one - and that is our patients.
Advice #2: Graduates need to build relationship with patients
Our graduates are leading 21st century nurse-patient relationships, where patients become the captain of their own ship and our graduates, the navigators. On this ship, the patient is put in a position to make decisions based on the limitations of certainty. And when they reach the limitations of certainty, the patient should feel comfortable not by asking, “Nurse, what would you do?”, but “Nurse, what would you do if you were me?” And that requires trust. It stands in need of a relationship - and that is why we need nurses.
This essential element of the nurse-patient relationship is one that our graduates need to feel proud of. Certainly, their training has taught them to see the human side of their work, and they understand the importance of the nurse-patient relationship. But the enormity of nursing tasks often requires them to focus so heavily on techniques and skills that they may not have enough time, empathy, or courage to be in touch with their emotional quotient. They may end up spending many of their working hours in front of the computer or with machines. They may not be doing it by choice, but because that has become the nature of nursing work.
I hope that as talented as they are, they will find a way to keep the best of what is good about the Electronic Medical Record and toss the rest of it. They need to find ways to spend more time with their patients, and with each other, in dialogue and fellowship. When there is nothing more they can do for patients, they have to remember that it is just the beginning of everything they can do for their patients. They can still give patients the best of themselves, which is their presence at patients' bedside. They can heal even when they cannot cure by that simple human act of being at the bedside.
Hence, our graduates need courage and determination to push back when things detrimental to their time and care of the patient, are being thrust at them. Machines don't take care of patients. Nurses and their colleagues in other healthcare professions care for patients; people take care of other people.
Finally, I want to mention what our graduates can learn from their patients. We meet our patients when they are at their weakest point. Many have fought their illnesses by stoically hanging in there. If our patients can hold on well when facing illnesses and death, I hope our graduates can find similar levels of courage to face their own personal trials by learning through what they witness daily—the courage and the strength of their patients.
Advice #3: Graduates need to build relationship with family
While most of our graduates may think that Commencement Day is about themselves, they need to realise there are some very important people who have helped them get to where they are today: the members of their family. They have encouraged them, loved them, guided them, and likely funded much of their way to this point.
We often forget or take for granted the most obvious things around us. It is difficult to stay aware of what is happening around us when we are too busy dealing with the monologue inside our head, especially at the start of our career. Nonetheless, university education is not only about success and achievement. It is learning how to think and exercise some degree of control over our thoughts so that we can choose what to pay attention to in our life.
While they are building their career, my advice to our alumni is to pay attention to their family and loved ones and enjoy family life.
May the Class of 2017 discover, as generations before them have, the great happiness and satisfaction inherent in the practice of nursing.
Congratulations, class of 2017!