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The long road taken and beyond


Nicholas (left) with his classmate at the Nanyang Polytechnic School of Health and Social Sciences graduation ceremony.

Bright and approachable, 23-year-old Nicholas Chan remains humble despite the long road he has taken to reach medical school, from his days as a student nurse at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College East.

Nicholas performed poorly in the O level examinations. Undaunted, Nicholas was still adamant to pursue healthcare as a career, remembering the profound impact his grandmother’s care had on him as a child. “I have always admired how my grandma could lift my mood no matter how sick I was, just by showering me with care and concern,” he says. “I realised that when we are sick and vulnerable, we often wish for someone to nurse us back to health, because we are too weak to do it ourselves.” To do the same for others as his grandmother had done for him – that was who he wanted to become. With that in mind, he enrolled into ITE College East, and subsequently Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP) as a nursing student.

While Nicholas found nursing rewarding, he yearned for more. He resolved to set about the Herculean task of getting into medical school. In addition to his nursing studies at NYP and a part-time job, Nicholas also tackled the A level examinations as a private candidate, both to increase his odds and to challenge himself. To maximise his time, Nicholas even wrote on his thighs, calves and forearms to study whilst travelling, and made waterproof study cards to study in the shower.

With so much on his plate, it was a real test of his mettle. Whilst acutely aware that it was a long shot, he had not felt more distanced from his goal until then. “It was difficult to keep my dream alive,” he sombrely admits. “I felt like the odds were against me every step of the way, and I had my fair share of detractors as well.” However, the encouragement and help of his friends, lecturers and family helped, something of which he is thankful and also credits for his achievements.

Despite getting into medical school, Nicholas has not let his success define him for who he is today. Instead, he is emphatic on the formative experiences he has gained training as a nurse, which has strengthened his desire to give back to the community. Amongst all his memories, Nicholas most fondly remembers his time in paediatrics as a student nurse. Once, a young charge of his had stuck a sticker onto his nametag, a simple act that made the child so happy that he decided to leave it on. Since then, it has become Nicholas’ good luck charm on the job.

Nicholas (right) and his preceptor at his clinical placement at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.

Moments like these remind Nicholas of the impact he can make in healthcare, and why it is worth the effort and sacrifice. It has even motivated him to start a gardening project at the Institute of Mental Health with a group of like-minded friends, to the delight of patients there.

Nicholas’ success seems surreal, and he might seem to have left the nursing life behind. But he is insistent that he will never forget his roots in nursing, something that he is confident he can bring to the table as a doctor.

“Nursing has always been about the people. Regardless of background and uniform, we are in the same team. We can create tangible and lasting effects on our patients. I think that's something worth remembering when things get rough.”

A piece of advice for those grappling with obstacles out there? Go at your own pace. As testament to that, Nicholas quips, “remember that it does not matter how slowly you go, so long as you do not stop the good you are doing.”