Nursing dream fulfilled at 44

As a child, Ms Suguna Tambusamy dreamt of being a nurse, but it was an ambition she fulfilled only last year, when she was 44.

She was drawn to the white uniform, which suggested to her a "pure and noble" profession. She joined the Red Cross as a co-curricular activity in primary school and enjoyed learning first aid.

In secondary school, her housewife mother objected to her career choice because she viewed nursing as "a dirty job" that involved washing people's bodies, says Ms Suguna.

The youngest of three children adds: "She wanted me to have a proper office job."

Her late father, a motor mechanic, shared his wife's sentiments.

Ms Suguna felt she had "no choice" but to obey her parents and studied commerce in secondary school and, later, accounting at Ngee Ann Polytechnic. These were subjects she liked.

Her first job was doing accounting and administrative work at an advertising agency. Four years later, she moved on to similar work, which she did for about 10 years.

In the early 2000s, her father died, aged 64, after a blood vessel in his brain burst.

Around that time, her mother was suffering from a host of ailments such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and high blood pressure. She went to the hospital often and the care she received prompted a change of heart.

Ms Suguna says: "My mother told me, 'Sorry, I shouldn't have stopped you (from pursuing nursing). It's a noble job. If you have the chance, go for it.' I was happy, but I didn't know when I would get that chance."

After her mother died in her early 60s of cardiac arrest, Ms Suguna, who is married to a 49-year-old warrant officer, quit her job to care for her two children, now 19 and 13. She did not work for five years.

She was glad to leave the world of accounting as she had gradually found handling money to be stressful and felt that a desk-bound job was not for her.

Five years ago, she saw an advertisement for a Professional Conversion Programme targeting would-be nurses. Her husband was supportive and her children were older by then.

She says: "I thought it would motivate them to see mummy studying at the same time as them. We could compete to see who could score better."

Under the programme, she took a full-time accelerated diploma in nursing at Nanyang Polytechnic, which took two years instead of the usual three.

The costs, including the course fees and a monthly training allowance, were borne fully by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency, Ministry of Health and Singapore General Hospital.

Now a staff nurse in the neurology ward at Singapore General Hospital, Ms Suguna says it has been challenging to adjust to the hectic pace and shift work.

She adds, however, that "when you start doing something you love, you won't think about feeling tired".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 28, 2016, with the headline 'Nursing dream fulfilled at 44'. Print Edition | Subscribe