In personal adversity, Nursing is a calling

Becoming a nurse is a profession for some. For Teo Neil Russell, it was a calling he discovered when his mother fell ill.

During his junior college years, Russell’s mother suffered a stroke, which worsened and put her in a vegetative state. He and his family spent many hours in the hospital and by her bedside. It was during his lengthy spells in the hospital that he was exposed to the nursing profession.

He recalled the genuine care the nurses had for his mother, how they listened to her, and even cared for the family who was going through a difficult time. That was a turning point in his life – their kindness touched him and inspired him to embark on a career in nursing. After his A-Levels, he enrolled in the Alice Lee Centre of Nursing under the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine in 2018.

Even though he did not have a background in biology, he was undeterred. “I looked at the nurses and their job, and felt it would be something I would enjoy in future, so I took up the challenge and worked towards it,” Russell shared.

Learning within and beyond the classroom

At NUS Nursing, Russell worked hard to overcome his lack of biology qualifications, and he also did not want his earlier results to define him.

“Any peer tutoring, any extra class, I would join. Even though I had no questions to ask the tutor, I would still join the class to listen to other students asking questions. You can learn a lot if you listen to others,” Russell said.

He later became a tutor to his peers. To help them with exam preparation, he listened to the concerns of his juniors and even organised an extra session with lecturers before the exams to clear up any doubts about the curriculum that the students had.

Russell was also active in the Nursing Sub-Club. In his first year, he was the Vice House Captain and a member of the welfare committee. In his second year, he became the House Captain and head of the welfare committee. Alongside these commitments, Russell was also active in sports and performing arts, joining the boxing and Muay Thai clubs to keep fit.

A shy person by nature, Russell decided to join the NUS Stage, a performing theatre group, to build up his confidence. Rehearsing his lines hour after hour – even just for a small part – helped him to improve his public speaking skills and become more composed as a nurse.

“If I don’t speak confidently, patients may wonder, ‘why does the nurse sound unsure, is there something wrong?’ Projecting confidence goes a long way when communicating with patients,” Russell noted.

One of his most memorable moments happened in his first year in NUS Nursing when he and his coursemates visited rural Indonesia to set up clinics in the villages, under the Nursing Overseas Community Involvement Programme. To better communicate with the patients there, Russell did a minor in Bahasa Indonesia. This new language skill is also useful when he works in wards with Malay-speaking patients.

Caring for his mother while studying

His time at NUS was not always smooth sailing. Russell’s mother often had to visits the hospital, and he found himself being her main caregiver by virtue of his nursing experience.

At one point during his final (fourth) year, he had to attend online lectures and consultations with his supervisor at the benches in the hospital where his mother was warded. During his free time, he would read journal articles at his mother’s bedside.

It was his growing knowledge in nursing that improved his care for his mother. As the efficiency of his care improved, medical procedures such as tube feeding and injections required only a fraction of the time that they originally took. Understanding the medicines recommended by the doctor also helped him to monitor his mother’s condition better.

Crucially, it was his nursing training that helped him notice that his mother was unwell earlier this year. “I would not have known that she needed to be admitted if I had not learnt about it in class,” Russell said. His mother is now back home under his care.

These experiences built up his resilience as a nurse.

Throughout his time in NUS, Russell felt it was important to both have a vibrant university life, and also keep abreast of his multiple commitments. Planning and consistency was key for him. “I did a paper schedule every week to remind myself what time my mum’s medical appointments were, what time I needed to collect her medication, and what time were my classes. I would look at what free time I had before planning other activities,” Russell said.

Resilience and hard work paid off

Despite having to overcoming various personal and academic challenges, the four years in NUS have been fruitful for Russell. The key, he said, is to choose a course one enjoys.

“I had managed to push through because I enjoyed what I studied. At NUS, I felt I grew not just academically, but also as a person. I took part in many activities and CCAs not just to have fun with friends or exercise, but for personal development. I chose those activities to improve my weak areas because I wanted to leave NUS as a stronger, better individual,” he said.

Drawing on his own experience, he urged students not be afraid to reach out for help. During his final year, he credits his student support manager for lending a listening ear and providing him with lots of support when his mother was critically ill. “She was there for me even beyond my academic concerns. Truth be told, she is the kind of nurse who inspired me to join nursing. She cared for me both as a student and as an individual.”

Russell will be graduating with a Bachelor of Science (Nursing) with Honours (Highest Distinction). In August, he will start working at a local hospital, and he hopes to have a chance to work in the accident and emergency department in the future. He also wishes to pursue further studies.

Even beset with trials and tribulations in his life, Russell remains undaunted. “Have faith in yourself. Take the leap. Challenges may be difficult, but with effort and persistence you can overcome them.”

This story is part of NUS News’ coverage of Commencement 2022, which celebrates the achievements of our 13,975 graduates through 28 in-person ceremonies. For more on Commencement, read our story on the opening ceremony, check out the official Commencement website, or look up (and tag) #NUS2022 on our social media channels!