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Gen Y Speaks: I aspired to be a radio DJ, but my grandfathers’ deaths led me to nursing

Growing up obsessed with pop culture, I was certain that my goal in life was to become a radio deejay. I was passionate about the music scene and was the programme director of my polytechnic’s very own radio station. 

Kimberley-Ann Tan Zi Ying decided to enrol in nursing school at the National University of Singapore despite having no medical knowledge at all. 
Kimberley-Ann Tan Zi Ying decided to enrol in nursing school at the National University of Singapore despite having no medical knowledge at all. 
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Growing up obsessed with pop culture, I was certain that my goal in life was to become a radio deejay. I was passionate about the music scene and was the programme director of my polytechnic’s very own radio station. 

Convinced that this was my road to success, I sought to turn my passion and craft into a professional career in media and entertainment.

So, as a 17-year-old, I embarked on my diploma in mass communications at Ngee Ann Polytechnic with a clear vision of what I wanted to do in the future.

But as they say, life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans.

During my final year of my diploma studies, both my grandfathers had to go in and out of the hospital for various reasons. 

My maternal grandfather had Alzheimer’s disease, which eventually led to him struggling with severe dementia. 

He started losing his memory and his ability to independently carry out his daily activities, and my grandmother had to take up the role of being his primary caregiver.

I remember offering to stay over to watch my grandfather overnight so that my grandmother could rest and take a break from her caregiving responsibilities. 

I spent the entire night watching him abruptly wake up from his sleep, watching him while his eyes stayed open, talking to the ceiling over and over again while trying to take off his mittens that we had to put on to protect himself from involuntarily scratching his fragile skin.

This gave me my first glimpse of what it was like to be a caregiver and having to bear the physical, emotional and mental load of someone who could not do it for themselves any longer. 

But being only 19 and having zero medical knowledge at the time, all I knew was that my grandpa was slowly slipping away, and my time left with him was limited.

Over the next few months, my grandfather’s condition deteriorated and he had to be admitted to Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH). 

This was my first ever memory of being in a hospital setting. He was admitted to a geriatric ward but was only there for a short period of time before he passed on. 

I remember being the one to realise that he had stopped breathing, and alerted my family members who then informed the nurse in charge. 

I was impressed with how calm and collected the nurses were, and how they exercised compassion towards us and treated my grandfather with dignity in his final moments. 

Sadly, less than a year later, my paternal grandfather unexpectedly passed away as well.

Their deaths struck me deeply, because they were the first closest relatives of mine that I had lost. I was experiencing and understanding grief for the first time in my life. 

It was also at this point in time that I was in the last few months of my diploma studies and had to start my university applications. 

Although I had really wanted to further my studies in communications, my grades were not adequate enough to enrol into the course that I had wanted. 

So, I stopped to rethink what I wanted my future to look like.


My father suggested trying out nursing because I always had a soft spot for the elderly and loved taking care of people. 

I was unsure at first, and started to ask around to see what people thought of me joining the profession.

Although many said that they couldn’t imagine me being anyone other than “Kim the DJ”, some said otherwise and easily pictured me becoming a nurse. 

I then learnt that growing up, the women who I looked up to as role models also happened to be nurses. My paternal grandmother worked as a senior assistant nurse. The captain of my Girls’ Brigade co-curricular activity in Presbyterian High School at the time is currently an advanced practice nurse.

In that sense, I felt an affinity with the industry even though it was not something that I had considered before.

Another big motivator was the fact that I wanted to study something that would give me more practical skills, after the helplessness I felt during my two grandfathers’ final months.

I wanted to be able to take care of my parents and family in the future, and not feel as clueless as I previously did.

So, I decided to enrol in nursing school at the National University of Singapore with no medical knowledge at all. 

The first few months were an uphill battle, and I remember constantly reflecting on whether I made the right choice. 

But thankfully, I managed to find my footing one step at a time, and fell in love with the exciting new journey I was on.

Eventually, I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in nursing in 2020.

But my final year was the hardest hurdle to cross, as the Covid-19 pandemic had thrown the world of healthcare into a tizzy.


I was attached to TTSH as part of my final hospital attachment before I graduated. That was in April 2020, when the first circuit-breaker was implemented in Singapore. 

I admit I was very scared to leave the safety of my home to head to the hospital at a time when not much was known about the virus. It was a strange sensation to head to work when everyone was forced to stay home.

But the work needed to be done and lives needed to be saved. 

A few months later, I officially started work as a staff nurse in TTSH. Due to the strict safe distancing measures back then, many of our orientation programmes were delayed, cancelled, or conducted online instead. 

This meant that we had to adapt and learn many things on-the-job. 

As much as I would’ve liked to say that I coped with the transition well, the truth is that I had never experienced this much stress and anxiety before. 

Nothing could have prepared me fully for how mentally, physically, and emotionally demanding nursing was.

From having to increase my knowledge through learning about different diseases, care plans and medications, and keeping up with the ever-changing protocols; to becoming competent and efficient in my nursing care, I was forced to absorb everything and learn from my seniors as quickly as possible. 

Due to the heavy workload, I lost a lot of weight. This definitely made work even more draining: Imagine a 42kg 24-year-old trying to carry patients double or triple her size.

Truth be told, there were more lows than highs in my first year of nursing. 

But the one thing that always rekindled my sense of purpose was reminding myself that although I wasn’t able to take care of my grandfathers anymore, I was entrusted with the duty of looking after someone else’s life at their most vulnerable state.

Having that perspective really kept me grounded and motivated me to continue to be the best nurse I could be for my patients. 

Ms Kimberley-Ann Tan Zi Ying (right) speaking to her colleague in one of the wards at Tan Tock Seng Hospital on July 28, 2023.


Three fulfilling years later, I’m currently a senior staff nurse in an acute internal medicine unit at TTSH. 

I’m also currently a preceptor to students and new nurses who are at the start of their nursing journey. I do my best to support them just like how my seniors supported me at the beginning of my career.

I frequently reflect on my journey and think about how differently I deal with similar situations now, thanks to the experience I’ve gained over the past few years. 

I know that three years ago, I would not have had the confidence I currently possess to handle demanding patients and their family members, while being efficient and effective in the coordination of my patients’ care.

But it was thanks to hard work and the support of my seniors that showed me how it is done.

With Nurses Day approaching on Aug 1, I’m also proud of how the role of nurses has evolved over the years, as well as the opportunities given to us to specialise in our areas of interest such as research, education, management, or clinicals. 

Nursing is hardly a stagnant role, and there are schemes to encourage innovation among us too. For example, TTSH’s Nursing Innovation Bunch has a S$1,000 funding scheme for new nurses to trial their innovative ideas in their first and second year of employment.

I’m able to do less repetitive and strenuous tasks thanks to robotics and automation, which frees up my energy to focus on building trust and strong relationships with my patients and their families. 

This allows me to provide more holistic patient care and attend to their emotional needs, a vital aspect of a patient’s recovery journey that is often overlooked.

I decided to write this article because my career in TTSH nursing has been nothing short of fulfilling and exciting, despite all the challenges that come along with it. 

Every shift is completely different, and you learn and experience something new every single day. It’s one of the professions that changes your life for the better while you do the same for others.  

Despite mostly being in clinical nursing, I’ve also embarked on many creative projects along the way in TTSH, tapping into my past as a mass communications student.

From creating nursing content for our social media, to writing articles and hosting events, I’ve been given many opportunities to keep my creative side alive. 

My advice to anyone who might be at the crossroads of deciding what career path to head down would be to take a chance at something new.

After all, my experience taught me that we don’t just have one passion in life to pursue.

Work hard and learn as much as you can no matter which stage of life you’re in. You’ll pick up things that’ll help you wherever you’re going next, even though they may seem completely irrelevant at that point in time.


Kimberley-Ann Tan Zi Ying, 27, is a senior staff nurse at Tan Tock Seng Hospital. She is a member of TTSH nursing’s Recruitment Operations and Business Strategic Team, also known as Robust, and is a part of its social media sub-committee. 

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career nursing caregiving TTSH

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