True devotion to patient welfare is so much more important than career advancement, says Amy Luk, deputy chief nursing officer and infection control nurse at Hong Kong Baptist Hospital. Recalling that she has enjoyed taking care of others since she was a child, she notes, "I didn't like to see people ill or suffering, which is why I decided to become a nurse when I was still in high school."
Ms Luk started in the nursing profession 30 years ago, studying general nursing for three years at Alice Ho Miu Ling Nethersole Hospital, followed by another year in obstetrics.
After completing her nursing studies, Ms Luk spent two-and-a-half years working in obstetrics at Nethersole Hospital before moving to Hong Kong Baptist Hospital, where she has served for more than 20 years. "Nursing is no different to any other profession in the sense that continuous education is important for professional development," she stresses.
She acquired a Bachelor of Nursing degree in 1997, followed by a master's degree in Health Administration in 2000. She explains that the Nursing Board recently decreed that nurses need 30 hours of training for every two years worked. Ms Luk also undertook 500 hours of studies in 2005 and 300 in 2006 in the field of infection control.
Comparing today's nursing system to that of three decades ago, she says. "In the old days we spoke about 'apprenticeships', when we spent time working in wards after every few weeks of studies." Today, all registered nurses are university-trained, she notes. "They have a lot of academic medical knowledge."
In the nursing profession, it is hard work on the ground that provides the experience to carry out tasks like inserting catheters or feeding tubes. "Fresh graduates often need an additional year to be trained up in the wards," she points out.
Ms Luk has seen many medical advances over the years, for example the different types of endoscopes that have been developed. "Minimally invasive surgeries and magnetic resonance imaging have also become available," she remarks. "These days, phacoemulsification is used to treat cataracts and patients may go home straight after the operation. In the past they had to spend seven days recovering in hospital." These types of improvements mean that the average stay in Hong Kong Baptist hospital is now 2.1 days.
Ms Luk is also excited about new technologies, such as PET (positron emission tomography) and CT (computed tomography) scans, to screen for cancers and other serious conditions.
Apart from education, devotion to the profession is the most important attribute for a nurse, Ms Luk believes. "A lot of passion is required in this job, as we look after patients as if they were our own family members." She stresses the importance of accurate administering of medication, describing this as "fundamental" to working as a nurse.
While many fresh graduates are concerned with the status of the profession, which is seen as a "respectable" job, Ms Luk emphasises that newcomers and junior staff must be prepared to deal with many less glamorous tasks while taking care of patients. Tender, loving care is key and it provides immense job satisfaction to see patients recover and to build relationships of mutual trust and friendship. It is also rewarding to receive praise or gratitude from patients' families.
"I spent 11 years working in the intensive care unit and it can be quite depressing when patients are terminally ill or have sustained serious injuries. It was important for me to take this role, where I could also help console families who were going through a difficult time," she recalls.
Nurses always have to concentrate on taking extreme care with every task at hand, Ms Luk stresses, conceding that there is a shortage of nursing manpower. "Even with a limited supply of experienced nurses, being serious about the job is still a life and death matter and this is the attitude we are looking for," she says.
Patients today are also customers, she adds, noting that the hospital even has a patient service manager to respond to queries and complaints from patients.
Ms Luk's daily responsibilities include infection control, in addition to administration and other work. "Infection control is an important issue. The outbreaks of SARS and avian flu over the past few years have made us all aware of the dangers of a severe outbreak. This is why Hong Kong Baptist Hospital has established a team of two full-time nurses for infection control and to deal with issues such as the surveillance of hospital-acquired infections and the controlled use of antibiotics."
Study methods and nursing practices may have changed over time, but a caring attitude is still the most important attribute for someone wanting to pursue a lifelong nursing career, Ms Luk concludes.