12 December 2017
Why would a young man who has just started his nursing career and is entering a new phase in life – with an impending marriage, a move into a new abode, and a looming job rotation – choose to take on the huge responsibility of leading a 700-strong alumni of nurses? We ask Suresh Rajasekaram, NUS Nursing Class of 2016, who was recently named NUS Nursing Alumni’s (NUSNA) 2017-2020 President.
The registered nurse from the National University Hospital (NUH) oversees NUSNA’s newly-appointed six-member Executive Committee, and leads the association towards its mission of strengthening alumni camaraderie and ties.
It is a task not for the faint-hearted, and he explained why he took on the job. “After graduation, the drift to the different hospitals to pursue a career begins. As nursing is a demanding job, inevitably, there will be a disconnect in the bonding and relationships of the pre- and post-registration days.
“I believe there is a need to bridge this gap – and NUSNA is here to do the job,” he said.
“NUS Nursing graduates bring shared values and professional standing to nursing. As a united body we can do more for the profession than alone. Nursing is also too small an industry to discount working with your juniors and seniors further down the road, so why not build the bonds earlier?” he added.
He knows this is a challenging role, but the Bachelor of Science (Nursing) (Honours) graduate and an MOH Holdings scholar is used to taking the road less travelled.
The 29-year-old’s own journey to nursing registration took 11 years and was an unusual one. He started as a “top-up” nursing student at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE). The term, he was told, was used to describe students added to the programme to make up the numbers.
Many 18-year-olds would have been discouraged by the negativity and stigma that surrounded ITE students then – but not him.
“The lecturer who interviewed me for a spot in the ITE nursing programme and then took me in said he didn’t have to, and warned me not to make him regret his decision. Whenever he saw me on campus, he would remind me of that,” he recalled.
“I never forgot his words and worked really hard to succeed as I didn’t want to disappoint him. It was during those times that my interest in nursing sparked,” he said.
“I found myself wanting to do well for myself, not to prove to others I could,” he added. He started scoring As and Bs and became a role model for his classmates with his quick mastery of nursing knowledge and skills. He also took on leadership roles, and aspired to get higher nursing qualifications as at clinical attachments, he saw what registered nurses could do that enrolled nurses could not.
He did well enough to enter Ngee Ann Polytechnic to take his diploma in nursing, graduating second in his cohort with a Silver medal, and then to NUS to take a degree in nursing.
Till today, he still keeps in touch with the lecturer who gave him his first break – Mr Tay Wei Sern, who is now Deputy Director of Health Sciences at ITE’s School of Applied & Health Sciences.
“It’s amazing that someone who didn’t get an ‘O’ level certificate could have gone so far – and I have Mr Tay to thank,” said Suresh.
“He looked beyond the boy with the coloured hair and pierced ears who failed his ‘N’ levels, and gave him a chance on the day of the interview. I can’t imagine where I would be without him!”
They still keep in touch, and Mr Tay attended both of Suresh’s graduation ceremonies and told him how proud he was of him.
Perhaps as a result of the mentorship he received, Suresh and his team are eager to build new relationships and partnerships across the NUS Nursing family. NUSNA is hatching a mentorship programme that will assign alumni who are working as junior staff nurses to first- and second-year NUS Nursing undergraduates to mentor them in school work and life and in career path decision-making.
“Many students still have doubts on whether they’ve chosen the right course when they start nursing studies,” said Suresh. “Some of them could have made their choices under duress. When they face difficulties, or traumatising moments especially during milestone events such as clinicals, they can seek solace, reassurance, motivation or encouragement from their mentors, who are junior staff nurses and can still understand and empathise with them as these memories are fresh in their minds.”
The details are still being worked out, but he said they hope to pilot it with the next cohort.
2019 also marks the tenth anniversary of the pioneer batch of degree nurses in Singapore, and NUSNA has big plans to organise an event to mark this milestone. “Traditionally, nurses from the polytechnics formed the bedrock of the nursing force. To have had 10 years of graduate nursing is a significant milestone indeed and we want to celebrate this with the NUS family,” he said.
Suresh is NUSNA’s third President. He succeeds Sarah Ong, who served as NUSNA’s President from 2014-2017. In her three-year term, Sarah and her team collaborated closely with the Department to rope alumni in as co-facilitators in undergraduate and inter-professional education classes. She and her team improved professional development of the alumni by co-developing a facilitators course to certify alumni and award them CNE points for facilitating classes in the undergraduate skills simulation programme.
“My hope is for greater camaraderie within our NUS Nursing community. If we can continue to increase the awareness and impact we are making, it will only contribute to raising our professional standing as registered nurses,” said Sarah, who has started working as a lecturer at Nanyang Polytechnic to mould the future generation of nurses.