In the modern age, we have largely learned to disregard job stereotypes and set aside preconceptions. A woman as CEO and a man as receptionist; female doctor and male nurse. What does it matter as long as the person can do the job? However, in most cases, it has taken a few exceptional people to break down barriers and show the way.
Kanny Kwong, now department operations manager (psychiatric) at Siu Lam Hospital and Tuen Mun Hospital was initially attracted to the profession of psychiatric nursing when he happened to see a job advertisement over 30 years ago. He subsequently applied and, since then, has enjoyed an endlessly challenging yet rewarding career. "At the time, psychiatry was a big mystery to me," he recalls, "but I had an inquisitive mind and started out on an extraordinary journey of exploration."
It began with a three-year training course in psychiatry, after which Mr Kwong was able to become a registered nurse in the psychiatric unit. "The basics of nursing in various departments may be essentially the same," he says. "However, the context and nature of the job will lead to differences, since general nurses take care of a patient's physical needs, while psychiatric nurses look after their mental wellness."
Your route in life will largely be determined by the profession you choose
In explaining further, he points out that if patients are suffering from some physical ailment and are confined to bed, they are generally passive, dependent and communicative. The job of caring for them is then more task-oriented and the attention of nurses is understood and appreciated. For psychiatric cases, though, nurses need to deal with the mental incapacity of patients and spend more time interacting with them. "It can often happen that patients don't recognise they have any problems or special needs," Mr Kwong notes. "Therefore, they don't always appreciate our work at first and we have to reinforce positive behaviour after assessing aspects of personal development and interaction with other people. Obviously, the job has a lot to do with communication."
He is quick to dismiss any idea that psychiatric nursing might be a frustrating profession with a limited level of job satisfaction. "The work involves providing encouragement and persuading patients to do things, like taking exercise, which they are sometimes unwilling to try. Even though they may not immediately realise the benefits and the efforts made to help them, you can still see the results. Since it can also be a lengthy process, strong and trusting relationships are developed."
Besides that, there is also satisfaction to be gained from the astute management of resources and making sure that all needs are provided for even when budgets are tight. This becomes very much part of the caregiver's responsibility and can entail a degree of creativity and flexibility to ensure everything is adequately funded. For Mr Kwong, however, the greatest satisfaction has come from the extraordinary opportunities for personal growth and the chance to develop diverse perspectives on life. "You learn to appreciate the importance of helping others and do not necessarily use the standard benchmarks when thinking about what you get from the job," he says.
After being promoted to nursing officer, Mr Kwong was given government sponsorship in 1990 to receive training in the UK. Soon afterwards, he was promoted to ward manager and then to senior nursing officer. He now manages seven wards in Siu Lam Hospital plus the mental handicap unit in Tuen Mun Hospital. By participating in the professional development activities of the head office nursing section, he hopes to improve the public's understanding of psychiatry. "We are proactively building up community care programmes," he explains. "As the community gets more involved, the nursing profession is better understood and the general atmosphere becomes more open and positive. Patients want to recover and it is our aim to help them find a role in society."
Those wishing to join the profession need a certificate of registration (part one) and a valid practising certificate from the Nursing Council of Hong Kong. A post-basic 18-month training programme in psychiatric nursing is required for the certificate of registration (part two) and for a job in a psychiatric unit. For promotion to the position of advanced practice nurse, one would need at least five years' post-registration experience in healthcare. Also required is a Master's degree or postgraduate diploma in a clinical nursing specialty or related discipline with recognised training qualifications. Further promotions would be based on merit rather than seniority.
Mr Kwong advises young people to concentrate on obtaining the right qualifications and choosing their career path carefully. "The choice is in your hands. Your route in life will largely be determined by the profession you choose, so it is important to find something in which you can be proactive, make a difference and achieve personal growth."
Nursing can be regarded as a universal profession and there is consistent demand in most parts of the world. Many Hong Kong registered nurses are now working overseas. Those who wish to do this may need to obtain additional recognised qualifications. Anyone looking for overseas opportunities and a meaningful career whether in mainland China, developing or underdeveloped countries can also opt to join international organisations such as Medecins Sans Frontieres.