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From fixing aircraft to nursing


In 2009, I made the life-changing decision of leaving my work in the aircraft maintenance industry to join nursing. My wife, who was expecting our firstborn, was very shocked when she heard the news. At that time, we had just gotten married and were about to start our little family. However, my wife knew how much this meant to me. With her blessings, I enrolled for the Career Conversion Programme – Registered Nurse (Diploma) by Workforce Singapore that year. 

To be honest, starting from scratch was not easy. I had to pick up the textbooks once again as a nursing student at Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP). It got more challenging for my wife and I as we juggled our responsibilities after our eldest child was born. Luckily for us, we had a good neighbour who helped to look after our son when my wife had to return to work.

The hardest part of being a mature student was adapting to the learning environment and taking on modules that were foreign to me. Thankfully, I had some basic medical knowledge and skills from being a combat medic during National Service. That really helped me throughout my two years in school. I eventually graduated in 2011, and joined Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH)'s Surgical High Dependency Unit as a full-fledged nurse!  

The challenges of making a mid-career switch did not deter Firdaus from doing so.

Learning did not stop there for me… As a firm believer in lifelong learning, I see the value in having access to more knowledge. It gives me better judgement and sharpens my decision-making skills. With the desire to better myself in intensive care nursing, I enrolled for the Advanced Diploma in Nursing (Critical Care) at NYP in 2015. I am glad I did as my wish was to provide better care for critical patients in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

In my younger days, my impression of the profession was that nurses did only mundane work such as administering medication and serving food – I was absolutely wrong!  After being on the job, I realised that nursing is so much more than that.

Firdaus at training in the National Centre for Infectious Diseases' High Level Isolation Unit.

As healthcare professionals, nurses are part of a team that cares for and manages patients. We work alongside doctors, allied health professionals and ancillary staff. Every day for the last 10 years, I go home knowing that I have made a difference in someone's life. That really gives me a great sense of satisfaction.

Currently, I am part of the team in the High Level Isolation Unit (HLIU) at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID). We are trained to handle high consequence pathogens and novel pathogens, for example, Ebola. I am also part of the ICU team taking care of critically ill patients. At times, we have colleagues from other wards who are mobilised to our unit, and I would help guide them too.

Firdaus likes to spend quality time with his family during his off days (photo taken before the COVID-19 pandemic).

These days, the main challenge is to keep ourselves safe while caring for COVID-19 positive patients. My wife was also concerned about my safety when she heard that I would be caring for these patients. Truthfully, I was fearful too especially since I have four young children. To ease my worries, I comply with the strict infection control and safety protocols put in place.

At work, my colleagues and I would always encourage each other to stay positive and soldier on. We try to be there for one another and help in any way we can. On the bright side, this pandemic has brought us all closer than ever, just like a big happy family...

Graduating with an Advanced Diploma in Nursing (Critical Care) in 2015.

Since walking on this journey, I have never looked back. I have felt myself grow professionally since day one. For instance, I am now more compassionate and patient towards the people around me. My nursing skills and knowledge also benefit friends and relatives who would often seek health-related advice from me.

I am Mohamed Firdaus Mohamed Salleh, Senior Staff Nurse at NCID. I look forward to changing the public perception about what nurses do and continue to be an advocate of this admirable career to my juniors. My advice to those considering a switch: "Don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone; you'll never know what your potential is until you try. There will always be challenges ahead, but it will all be worthwhile."