Nursing was 9th choice, but it turned out to be her calling

Alexandra Hospital's chief nurse Margaret Lee is one of the recipients of this year's President's Award for nurses. ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

SINGAPORE - On the first day of her first hospital attachment almost 30 years ago, Ms Margaret Lee, then a nursing student, was sent to the emergency department - as a patient.

She had fainted along the hospital corridor, overwhelmed by the sight and smell of a patient's diabetic foot ulcer.

Now chief nurse at Alexandra Hospital, Ms Lee, 45, recalled how many of her peers had expected her to quit and thought she would never make it as a nurse.

Not only did she stay on, but on July 14, she was one of seven nurses who received the President's Award for Nurses from President Halimah Yacob at a virtual ceremony. It is Singapore's highest accolade for the profession.

Now the mother of three children - aged 11, 14 and 16 - Ms Lee had not even planned on becoming a nurse. She had wanted to take up graphic design at Temasek Polytechnic, but did not score enough points in her O levels to get into the course.

She was accepted for the Diploma in Nursing at Nanyang Polytechnic, which she had applied for as her ninth choice. She said: "My mind went blank when I saw the results of my course application. I knew nursing was a tough job because that was what all the adults told me at the time. I had no idea of the job scope or what exactly nurses did."

But for Ms Lee, the setbacks motivated her to work harder. She said: "After I fainted in the hospital, it actually strengthened my resolve to finish the course as a personal challenge. And since I had already done poorly for my O levels, I did not want to mess up my diploma too."

She came to realise nursing was her calling. "Over time, many encounters added up to help me see the value of the work I did, and how privileged I am to be in a position to do something for others," she said.

One of her most poignant moments came about five years into the job, when she was taking care of a liver transplant patient.

Said Ms Lee: "He came from a financially disadvantaged background, so I was delighted when we found a suitable donor for him. When something good happens to your patients, especially if it is life-changing, you just feel extra happy for them."

Her job as chief nurse - a position she has held since May 2019 - involves more administrative responsibilities, like coordinating with other departments and healthcare staff throughout the hospital, in addition to guiding younger nurses.

Direct patient contact is not required of her now, which is something she misses.

So, she sometimes visits the clinical area to observe nurses interacting with patients.

"I do this to remind myself why I'm doing what I'm doing," she said.

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