SINGAPORE - At the age of 42, Ms Evelyn Ong is one of the oldest students in her nursing cohort at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
"My classmates are all 17 or 18 years old. I was quite concerned at first that I wouldn't click with them," she said.
But since she joined the nursing diploma course in April last year, the second-year student has formed a clique of friends who go to her home in Bukit Panjang to play games and do group projects or go on outings together for meals.
Her teenage daughter Cheryl-Ann Tan, 19, followed in her footsteps and joined the same nursing diploma course this year.
Ms Ong was an enrolled nurse for eight years but she quit her job in 2010 to take care of her three children, who are now aged 11 to 19. Enrolled nurses support registered nurses and are responsible for providing bedside care and monitoring a patient's condition.
Ms Ong decided to return to nursing after her mother was diagnosed with late-stage liver cancer in 2019.
Being her mother's main caregiver in her last days before her death inspired Ms Ong to make the move.
"It was painful and heartbreaking to see her go through all the side-effects of chemotherapy and see her weight go down," she said.
"At one point I didn't know what else to do apart from checking her vital signs and routine care. A palliative nurse reminded me to slow down and be a daughter to my mum," she added.
Ms Ong decided to pursue a nursing diploma to gain a fuller understanding of patient management. Her previous qualification was a Nitec in nursing from the former Institute of Technical Education campus in Bishan.
"It is challenging to balance my studies and spending quality time with my family. I am first a mum, then a student... but having prior nursing experience helps a lot," said Ms Ong, whose husband is an army regular.
"At night I go through my Primary 5 son's homework, and sometimes we do our homework together," she said. "I will make it a point to have dinner with him every night and talk to him, hear about his basketball training and matches, friends, happenings in school."
Ms Tan, who is in her first year of studies, said she has a soft spot for vulnerable groups of people like the elderly and children. Her mother also unknowingly influenced her to join nursing.
"My mum is a very kind person and I hope to be like her," said Ms Tan. "Having her in school with me is like having a senior, teacher and friend all at once."
They go to school together two to three times a week, but eat separately because of different schedules.
The job that nurses do is "tough and admirable", said Ms Tan, adding: "I used to think nursing is just helping others and providing them with care but I've realised it's more than that. It's learning how to empathise with patients and listen to them."
NS stint inspires him to go into nursing
As a student at Victoria Junior College, Mr Rajendran Rajesh was not sure of what career or course he wanted to pursue next.
It was during his time in national service (NS) as a combat medic that he discovered his interest in healthcare.
"I like biology and learning about the human body in school, but NS was my first exposure to healthcare. I had a chance to see both the medical and administrative aspects of running a medical centre," said Mr Rajesh, 22, now a third-year nursing student at Nanyang Polytechnic.
His responsibilities in NS included dispensing medication, working with medical officers to treat soldiers and basic documentation of their health. He also liked to observe medical procedures carried out by doctors.
"I found a sense of satisfaction in helping the centre run smoothly and assisting wherever I could, like in basic first aid," said Mr Rajesh.
When he eventually decided to enrol in nursing, family members and relatives asked why he wanted to join a female-dominated profession.
"I think it's a generational stereotype, but it's not a concern to me. Gender doesn't play any role in patient care at the end of the day," said Mr Rajesh. "I see male nurses in the wards on my attachments and I don't feel very different."