Making his mark in nursing

May 2018

I did not have an easy childhood. The tattoos on my hand and ankles are reminders of a painful, not-so-distant past that I want to leave behind.

I was a bright child, scoring well enough to be top of my class in primary school. However, this changed when my parents got a divorce. It was extremely trying on me emotionally, and led to me straying from the straight and narrow. I neglected my studies, joined a gang and wasted my time away.

You know the saying, when you are at the bottom, the only way is up? Well, National Service got me started on the way up. I was referred to a counsellor at the Institute of Mental Health for depression. It helped me cope with my emotional issues. I also began thinking about my plans for the future.

As a medic in the Singapore Civil Defence Forces, I attended to recruits who were injured or reported sick during training. When the recruits smiled and thanked me for my care, I felt valued and appreciated. It was something that I had not experienced in a long time… and it felt really good.

I decided to apply for the nursing course at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College East to pursue my dream of caring for others. With hard work and perseverance, I managed to score 3.95 out of four for my grade-point average (GPA) and even got onto the Director’s List – which is for the top 10 percent of the cohort – a couple of times!

I did not expect to receive such an overwhelmingly positive response after my story was reported by Channel NewsAsia in December 2017. I had merely wanted to share my experiences and encourage others who might be struggling in life. I was shocked but heartened to receive numerous offers from the public – in the form of financial support for my school and living expenses, accommodation and even tattoo removal.

Azerael (left) at a tattoo removal session.

I gave these offers serious thought and decided to turn them down, save for one by a kind doctor: He had offered to remove my tattoos. It was something I really wanted to do, to leave my demons behind. I had been saving money for it and had already gone for a few sessions prior to starting school at ITE College East. Despite the pain and discomfort during these sessions, I am determined to remove my tattoos and step out of the shadows of my past.

Azerael (in front) with fellow student nurses and TTSH nurses during his student attachment at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

I graduated from ITE College East in February and will begin my Diploma in Nursing at Nanyang Polytechnic this October. I hope to continue advancing my knowledge in nursing and eventually obtain a degree. Just like how my ITE lecturers inspired me, I aspire to be an ITE nurse educator in the future to impart my nursing knowledge to nurses-to-be.

I know life is not easy for all of us. For those who are trying to find their place in life, I hope that you will take the first steps to define your journey and work towards your goal. I know the process will not be easy, but do not give up!

I am Azerael Azhar. Even when times are tough, I will rise above my circumstances and answer my calling to be a nurse.