Career Path

The greater things in life

by Charles Mak

Samantha Chong
chief nursing officer
Hong Kong Baptist Hospital
Photo: Nolly Leung

In the late 1970s when the corridors of Queen Mary Hospital were lined with stretcher beds, Samantha Chong made a decision that makes her life and many others' worth living.

Without a hint of youthful rebellion, Ms Chong entered the nursing profession against her parents' suggestion of a comparatively stable teaching job. "I had to follow my heart," she says. Life as a student nurse in the colonial past was complemented with camaraderie and a strong sense of mission. "The girls and I initially moved into the hall of residence at the historical Hartcourt House in Wan Chai and later relocated to wherever the training and placements took place," she recalls. For her, these included various specialties at Princess Margaret Hospital and the tuberculosis and chest units at Kowloon Hospital, as well as the obstetric and gynaecology wards at Tsan Yuk Hospital.

Her experience as a registered nurse soon entailed increased responsibilities as she took on the position of midwife, clinic in-charge, nursing officer and subsequently an additional role of counsellor, after completing a relevant master's degree. "A nurse can experience many significant life stages in one day. Counselling helps release some of the stress," Ms Chong explains.

She took a well-deserved break when her husband went on a study excursion in the US. She tagged along, and during their stay, obtained a psychiatric qualification. Back in Hong Kong, she signed up with Queen Elizabeth Hospital, assuming the roles of a registered nurse and midwife. "At that time, it was the busiest hospital in Hong Kong," she recalls, referring to those days as "the war period". "We sweated blood, but a passion for helping the needy kept us going," she remarks.

A few years later, her career came full circle when she reunited with the obstetric and gynaecology team at Tsan Yuk Hospital as a nurse specialist and an International Board certified location consultant. There she pioneered a grief management service, putting her knowledge of psychiatry and counselling to practical use. Other hospitals soon followed suit. "Sadly, not every birth brings joy," she explains. "Parents of a stillborn child or one with deformities can experience enormous distress. Midwifes and other medical staff need the skills to handle delicate moments like these. This holistic approach takes a patient's mental state into consideration."

"Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind." - Bertrand Russell
A master's qualification in healthcare management signalled a new stage in her life. It was then at Kwong Wah Hospital that she became a senior nursing officer, using her expertise in a management capacity.

"The opportunity and ability to formulate, influence and implement policies gives my work a new dimension," Ms Chong notes. "As I moved up the ranks, I saw a growing significance of training and support for nurses."

She spent 10 years there before assuming her current position as chief nursing officer at Hong Kong Baptist Hospital. Her role now encompasses responsibilities towards the hospital's nursing and clinical services, part of which involves the upkeep of support and training infrastructure.

Ms Chong believes that clinical experience, strong management and continuous learning are all keys to the development of the nursing profession. "Nursing is an art that requires an amalgamation of academic and clinical knowledge and skills," she notes. "Our profession is now more scientific with greater emphasis on the 'evidence-based' approach, but we must be able to maintain a healthy balance among all these."

She digests the day's news before stepping into the office where overnight reports await her. Clinical and cross-departmental meetings as well as those with nurses, the hospital's management team and the nursing school follow. In spite of her senior position, Ms Chong still derives great pleasure from doing "her rounds", relishing every moment on the frontline with her staff. "Communication with my colleagues is vital in every aspect of my job," she stresses. "Our endeavour is simple: to make sure that patients receive the best treatment and care."

People suffering from the loss of a loved one usually go through various stages of grief. Nursing and medical staff may become the outlet for emotional discharge and are expected to conduct themselves in a professional manner in any given situation. "Individuals that are able to keep their emotions at bay may be well suited to the job. However, we don't so much as curb our feelings but learn to understand and handle them so as to render care to others," notes Ms Chong. "The level of emotional consciousness helps us discharge our duties with empathy and offer proper medical and psychological support with confidence and compassion."

The unceasing shortage of nursing professionals is apparent all over the world. In Hong Kong, this has caused practising nurses to stretch their hours habitually. "Universities and hospitals in Hong Kong do produce a number of nurses every year. People holding a university degree may also take advantage of several conversion programmes. But, the supply never seems to satisfy the demand," Ms Chong laments.

Taken from Career Times 2 January 2010, p.11

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