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Born To Care

How nursing became my way of life

By Khadijah Bienaime, RN
o be honest, I have not been asked, “Why did you become a nurse?” very often. It wasn’t my lifelong dream. I didn’t aspire to become a nurse when I was a child.
In fact, I became a nurse against my parents’ wishes. My father was adamant that I take up teaching. Back in the early 2000s, nursing was still considered a “lower socio-standard” job in Asia, including here in Singapore where I’m from. Nurses were treated like house maids and looked down upon. I still remember to this very day defending my choice to take up nursing to my aunties and uncles.
So why did I choose nursing?
My journey to becoming a nurse started as my intention to honor a promise I made to my dear late aunt, whom I lost to breast cancer in 2003. During the last few months of her illness, I had offered to keep her company while she was hospitalized. Her chemotherapy had not gone well that week. She was running a fever and vomiting the entire night and was in and out of consciousness.

I tried my hardest to comfort her, but she grew delirious from the fever and smacked my hand away while I was replacing the cold compress on her head. She told me to get out, but I didn’t leave her side.
The next morning when she came to, she was able to recall bits of the night and asked if she had said anything awful. I could not bring myself to tell her, so I lied.
My aunty had not had an easy life. She was the single mother of two children, one of whom had cerebral palsy. She also supported my grandparents. Nevertheless, she loved celebrating her nieces’ and nephews’ birthdays and took me on trips when she travelled. She confided in me toward the end — her past, her worries, what she wanted for her kids, and what she wished she could do if she had more time. She also joked that I should follow in her footsteps and become a nurse since I took such good care of her. When she became quiet and asked if I would really do it, I acquiesced to her request just to make her smile.
Soon after her passing, I took the JAE — the Joint Admissions Exercise for choosing the next educational step after high school. I remembered the day I promised my aunt that I would follow in her footsteps, her wavering smile and the exhausted eyes that looked back at me full of both gratitude and uncertainty.
I recalled her strength as a person; her courage to not give up even at the very end. I loved the tenacity with which she lived her life, raising her children on her own and putting a roof over their heads and food on the table. Despite her illness, she still had the resilience to plan for the future.
“I began to acknowledge that nursing was not just a job to me. It became my way of life.”
I figured that if I wanted to be half the woman I admired so much, perhaps I should walk in her shoes — so I did. I have been a nurse since 2007, and there is not a day that I have regretted my decision.
As a nurse I’ve met people from many different walks of life. And over the years, I’ve been able to observe how each patient’s upbringing can affect how they deal with illness and how they communicate with the world. I use these observations to understand their feelings and tailor my approach to each patient. For instance, I’ve learned that when they raise their voices at me, they’re not really mad at me, and it does not really hurt me anymore — well, 95% of the time anyway. I want to help, and it’s okay for them to tell me they need my help.
Little by little, I began to acknowledge that nursing was not just a job to me. It became my way of life. It’s not just about healing a patient’s disease — it’s about showing them how to live with it if they must, showing them they are not alone, and providing a safe environment.
I want my patients to feel like they have somewhere to go if things get bad. If they need a place to belong or someone at their side, even if it’s against their family’s wishes (risks aside, of course), I want them to know they have that with me.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” I live by those words at work and in life. The interventions I choose and the communication style I use may be different for each patient because this is their journey, and at the end of the day, it’s not about us. It’s about the patients.
Recently, I asked my family and friends what they could see me doing if I wasn’t a nurse. Not one of them had a conclusive answer. Then it dawned on me. Perhaps the reason why people around me don’t ask me why I became a nurse was because it was in my DNA to care and protect, and that’s all there is to it. I was born to care.
Khadijah Bienaime, RN, works at the National Kidney Foundation, Singapore.