Nurse's career choice surprises parents

Madam Rohanah Pagi (left), a senior nurse clinician, with her husband Taha Khalid and the youngest of their four daughters, senior staff nurse Noreen Taha.
PHOTO: Nurse's career choice surprises parents

SINGAPORE - Want your kids to appreciate you? Send them on humanitarian missions or get them to perform community service, suggests Madam Rohanah Pagi.

The 62-year-old senior nurse clinician with SingHealth Polyclinic recalls how the youngest of her four children, Noreen Taha, broke into tears at the end of a 21-day personal growth camp run by Outward Bound Singapore on Pulau Ubin and the Riau Islands last December.

Madam Rohanah says: "They had all lined up at the jetty, waiting to greet their parents. As soon as we disembarked from the boat, the kids, including my daughter, ran to their parents, crying and hugging them."

Ms Noreen, a 28-year-old senior staff nurse at Alexandra Hospital, says the community service projects she did as part of the Outward Bound Singapore Leadership and Service Award camp were an eye-opener.

One of the projects was at Ren Ci Nursing Home, where she befriended a bed-bound man in his 40s. He told her about his "wild" younger days when he often stayed out late and sped on motorbikes, which she understands as she rides a motorcycle too.

As a volunteer mentor with Outward Bound Singapore, she was among 50 alumni members recognised last month for post-course community service projects. She was also part of the Singapore Red Cross Medical Relief team that visited a village in the Philippines ravaged by Typhoon Haiyan last November.

Next month, she will receive the Courage Fund Healthcare Humanity Award, first established to recognise health-care workers for their bravery during Sars.

She lives with her parents in a five-room HDB flat in Tampines. Her father, Mr Taha Khalid, 64, is a progress chaser officer who handles logistics at SIA Engineering Company. He and his wife have six grandchildren.

Their three older married daughters are aged 31 to 37; one is a housewife while the other two work as an administrative clerk and community outreach manager.

Q: How did you get into nursing?

Ms Noreen: I had wanted to be a nurse since I was 11 or 12 years old, after I watched a documentary about people in Africa who had Aids and the health-care professionals who cared for them.

Madam Rohanah: But she didn't tell us about this. It was only after she applied and was accepted to do her nursing diploma at Nanyang Polytechnic that we knew. She was doing well in her principles of accounting at Loyang Secondary School.

Mr Taha: I was shocked. She was supposed to be an accountant. I preferred that, as she'd have a better financial future.

Madam Rohanah: I asked her, "Are you prepared for shift work, working on weekends, looking after terminally ill patients, seeing death? Can you face it?"

Ms Noreen: I said, "I can do it", without knowing fully what I would be going through.

Madam Rohanah: I reassured my husband, "When this nurse grows old, there'll be a younger nurse to look after us."

Q: Was she a naughty child?

Madam Rohanah: She was a timid and quiet child. But once, when she was eight, she walked from Tampines Primary School to Tampines Polyclinic where I worked.

Ms Noreen: It was a 15-minute walk. To my mum, walking on my own was being naughty. I usually took the school bus. That day, mumsaid she would pick me up but she was late.

Madam Rohanah: When I arrived at her school, I searched everywhere for her and almost called the police.

Ms Noreen: I was afraid but I wanted to toughen up and walk home by myself. I crossed many roads on my own.

Madam Rohanah: I spotted her on the road near the polyclinic and gave a light honk. She smiled and waved at me, which told me she was proud of her achievement, so I didn't scold her.

Mr Taha: I didn't know about that incident.

Q: What is your parenting style?

Mr Taha: I want her to follow the teachings of our religion.

Ms Noreen: He's the traditional conservative father. If I went to a friend's birthday party at a chalet, he would expect me to be home by 9pm, which was when the party was just getting started. I questioned him sometimes.

Mr Taha: I would get angry, of course, and raise my voice. Most of the time, however, she would comply.

Ms Noreen: I didn't feel restricted because I understood that they wanted me to be able to think maturely, and know what's good and what's not good in the world out there.

Q: Who is stricter, mum or dad?

Ms Noreen: I could talk my way out of a tight spot with my mother but not with my father. He caned us, though I was fortunate to be caned less than my older sisters. The caning stopped when they were in secondary school. My mum would try to reason with my dad. She didn't tell him him about our misbehaviour because she's protective of her daughters.

Madam Rohanah: I was the children's armour. I tried to shield them when he caned them.

Mr Taha: But she got caned in the process. I was hot-tempered.

Q: What is your relationship like with your sisters?

Ms Noreen: They bullied me when I was in primary school. For example, on the flights during our family holidays, the three of them would sit together and told me to sit with my parents. But we are close now because we treat one another as grown-ups and can talk to one another.

Q: If the parent-child roles were reversed, what would you do differently?

Madam Rohanah: If I were her, pretty and young, I would become a flight stewardess and travel around the world. Or I would stick to finance and become an auditor, a sought-after job.

Mr Taha: If I were Noreen, I'd further my studies since my parents can afford to sponsor me. I'd get a medical degree, go from being nurse to a doctor.

Miss Noreen: I wouldn't do anything differently as my parents - they are fine as they are.

This article was published on April 20 in The Straits Times.Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.