Standing at a towering 1.94m, 26-year-old Samuel Yu is not exactly the first person that comes to mind when one thinks of the nursing profession.
But he is, in fact, a nurse at Alexandra Hospital.
Even more surprising: he is a former national water polo player.
How did someone who won two gold medals at the SEA Games in 2013 and 2017 end up caring for patients at a hospital, often working night shifts?
And is such a career daunting, especially when he graduated in the midst of a pandemic?
MS News spoke to Alexandra Hospital’s ‘gentle giant’ to learn more about what prompted him to pursue nursing in university despite having an illustrious national career in water polo.
The lean nurse had lost some of the muscle mass he used to have and obtained dark eye circles – we met him right before he began his night shift at 7pm – but his passion for healthcare showed through during our interview.
For Samuel, water polo was a passion he took up at 13. While he saw it as “fun”, he never considered taking up the sport as a full-time career.
But after going for an attachment at Dover Park Hospice before entering university, he saw nursing as a meaningful career.
“It was a way to feel connected (and interact) with people,” he told MS News. Having felt an “existential crisis” up to that point and searching for something to do after his A-levels, nursing became his top career choice.
He thus enrolled at NUS, juggling studying to be a nurse and water polo, and graduating just last June, amid the Covid-19 pandemic. One would think there would be some trepidation, but it turned out quite the opposite.
“Actually, I was quite excited,” Samuel laughed. “You hear about how people are overworked (during the pandemic), and you feel like, oh, now is the time to start working.”
He was enthusiastic about fully joining the healthcare sector, and the health risks were also less unknown than during the start of the pandemic.
As such, he felt he knew what to expect.
There is the desire to help that’s bigger than yourself.
While overwork and underappreciation have resulted in many healthcare workers resigning for other industries, Samuel appears nowhere ready to throw in the towel.
If asked to pick between water polo and nursing again, he’d pick nursing in a heartbeat.
In fact, he shared that he “feels better” with every day he works and feels assured that nursing is the right career choice.
This, coming from a Team Singapore athlete who won gold in the SEA Games twice.
“Water polo’s fun, but I think… I’d be a better nurse. I try not to second guess it, but I feel I started too late (as a water polo player) too.”
Many, especially patients, see male nurses as something of a curiosity. After all, males only make up about 10% of the nursing workforce in Singapore.
But Samuel isn’t bothered — he thinks the passion for looking after patients is more important than one’s gender.
Though initially surprised, his parents eventually supported his career choice.
He also credited Alexandra Hospital for not seeing nurses for their gender and letting him focus on his duties without stereotypes affecting his work.
Indeed, he said he feels happiest when his patients learn to take care of themselves after initially being diagnosed with chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure.
At the start, they feel scared, but you see, they become more confident and experts at managing themselves over time.
“Eventually, they can take care of themselves better than I can. That’s when I really feel happy,” he smiled.
Small moments like when a patient thanks or smiles at him even though they’re non-communicative also leave an impression on Samuel.
Although the government is offering retention payments to nurses so they’ll stay, Samuel believes nursing is, in fact, not for everyone.
They have to really enjoy it. If you enjoy it, then yes, (be a nurse). I don’t think it’s something that can be forced.
Of course, it never hurts to be recognised for your achievements, and Samuel was heartened when healthcare workers were recognised for their frontline role during the pandemic.
But what’s most important to him is that when he goes to work every day, he’s doing his part to improve his patients’ lives.
Although Covid-19 cases are decreasing, one never knows when the next wave might arrive and send hospitalisation rates up.
And frontline workers are the ones who have to deal with that situation, day in, day out. However, Samuel takes on his role with gusto, knowing that he is making a difference even though he candidly shared that he is “always tired”.
But compared to juggling uni studies with water polo practice, full-time work as a nurse is perhaps more meaningful to him.
This National Day, we salute our everyday heroes like Samuel, without whom Singapore would not thrive as much as it does.
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Featured image by MS News.
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