There are times when even experienced medical professionals find it hard to hold back their tears. For Sherry Ng that happened when she was nursing a woman suffering from a rare tumour which spread to different parts of the body and led to the progressive removal of the lower limbs and various other organs.
As an advanced practice nurse (ward and unit management) in the burns unit at the Prince of Wales Hospital (PWH), Ms Ng has seen her share of traumatic cases. She admits, though, it was impossible not to give way to her emotions when she thought of the courage of this patient who fought so hard to hold on to life, so she could be with her beloved husband just a bit longer.
Ms Ng has taught herself to regard cases like these as valuable experiences which have opened her eyes to the vicissitudes of life. By doing that, she has also been able to help patients to be more accepting of the hardships that illness can cause.
"Our professional training covers general medical and nursing knowledge, as well as exposing us to the realities of life," she explains. "Trainees must be able to attend to patients who are in pain and to deal with those who have any kind of worry or complaint." Therefore, it is vital to be empathetic, patient and good listeners. In the spirit of Florence Nightingale, the pioneer of modern nursing, trainees must also be persevering, practical and optimistic.
As a junior nurse, Ms Ng was once slapped on the face by a male patient with a kidney problem. Nevertheless, she remained calm, knowing that his infection was the reason for his aggressive behaviour. "We have to be considerate and realise that patients and their relatives may have undergone great suffering for a long period of time," she says. "They may vent their feelings but, as nurses, we must be ready to heal and not take their comments or abuse as a personal insult."
Ms Ng went into nursing because she wanted a long-term career in a field for which there is always demand for qualified personnel. She graduated as a registered nurse from the Prince of Wales Hospital in 1986 and worked in the surgical, medical and endoscopy units for three years before leaving to work in Canada for 12 months. Realising prospects were better in Hong Kong, she returned and accepted a post in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital's paediatric ward.
Having gained experience in a range of specialist areas, she became interested in teaching and completed a two-year postgraduate diploma in nursing education. This led, firstly, to teaching enrolled nurses in a private hospital for three years and then to instructing registered nurses at PWH for a further three years. In 2000, when nursing education was upgraded to university level, Ms Ng opted to gain more clinical experience and became a nursing officer in PWH's surgical unit before assuming her current position earlier this year. This is to lead the nursing team within the burns unit, with administrative responsibility for planning financial and human resources. The specialist role includes advising nurses, counselling patients, controlling infection and initiating evidence-based research and new practices.
Within the burns unit, nurses must acquire the clinical skills to care for wounds and scars. As most patients are unlikely to make a 100 per cent recovery, they must also provide counselling and maintain good long-term relationships even after patients have been discharged. Sometimes, nurses may even have to collaborate with psychiatrists to help patients who are seriously disturbed by their scars or have suicidal tendencies.
Ms Ng's current concern is the increasing number of domestic accidents, mostly involving toddlers being scalded. She cautions parents and babysitters to keep infants away from heating appliances and to exercise more caution at home. In more general terms, she also advises members of the public to adopt healthy lifestyles so they can enjoy their golden years.
Nowadays, as nurses are promoted on merit rather than seniority, Ms Ng says there will be more opportunities for young people dedicated to providing high-quality nursing services. They will be able to specialise in areas such as intensive care, management, or convalescent and hospice care. Three local universities now offer degree courses for trainee nurses and Ms Ng recommends that more school leavers should consider the profession as a viable career option.
"Offering assistance to people who are desperately in need and being able to relieve the anxiety of their families are among the most rewarding and satisfying things for a nurse," she notes. "You also acquire the medical knowledge to take care of yourself and your family."
- Training provides medical and nursing knowledge plus exposure
to the realities of life
- Special qualities are needed to care for patients and
provide advice for their families
- Three-year degree course in nursing can lead to work in
various specialist areas
- More careful practices at home could reduce the incidence
of serious burns
- The profession will offer many good career opportunities
in the years ahead