'Men do cry': This male nurse is okay with showing emotions at work

Tuesday, Feb 07, 2023

She can, He can is an original AsiaOne series where we showcase Singaporean men who are working in female-dominated jobs and their empowering personal journey in overcoming stereotypes.

Although some of his patients might not accept him, that doesn't stop Senior Staff Nurse Muhammad Shah from trying his best to care for them. 

As a palliative care nurse at Assisi Hospice, the 34-year-old's job involves caring for patients in the last stage of their lives.

Despite having a decade of nursing experience firmly under his belt, Shah says that he still comes across patients who refuse his care. 

"When I go to them they'll say, 'Call Missy, I want to change pampers', so I'll tell them that I'm a nurse and show my pass to them. But some of them insist on a female nurse," he tells AsiaOne.

To ensure his patients are comfortable, Shah makes sure to ask beforehand if they're okay with him attending to them. 

Despite this 'obstacle', Shah doesn't feel particularly disadvantaged as compared to his female colleagues. In fact, he divulges that being male sometimes helps in dealing with difficult relatives. 

He recalls an incident where he had to step in when a patient's family member got aggressive with his colleague after she refused to give them hot water. 

"[The relative] started pointing fingers at my colleague, and his finger was in my colleague's face. If I didn't step in I think he would have punched my colleague. 

"I pushed my colleague out of the way, held onto [the relative]'s hand, and asked him to talk [to us nicely]." 

Not afraid to show emotions 

As a palliative nurse at Assisi Hospice, Shah's job involves caring for patients in the last stage of their lives. PHOTO: AsiaOne

Being tactful with the occasional hostile relative aside, being a nurse has also taught Shah that it's okay to show emotions — even on the job. 

He shares a particularly poignant conversation he once had with a female patient, who told him that she was "ready to die". 

Thinking that the patient was confused, Shah simply told her to wait for the doctor to attend to her. 

"But she turned to me and said: 'I'm not confused, I'm not orang gila (a crazy person)." 

Three days later, Shah returned to work and found that the elderly patient's condition had deteriorated to the point where she was bedridden. Despite her condition, Shah vividly recalls how she held onto his arm and spoke to him about her life. 

"After I went off, the next day she passed on," he said. "I think she was waiting [to see me] before she left." 

When asked how these interactions affect him, Shah is not afraid to admit: "During [these moments], I will cry in front of them. 

"I learnt [during my training] that it's okay to show your emotions to the patients. But don't bring it home, because it will affect how you care for other patients." 

"Men do cry," he confesses. 

Mind over matter 

Since becoming a nurse, Shah says he's learnt to be more rational when communicating with others. PHOTO: AsiaOne

Nursing has not only helped Shah to express his emotions, but also rein them in. 

"Nursing has helped me to keep my cool, to help me be more relaxed when communicating [with others]." 

Shah admits he used to be a "hot-tempered" person during his younger days. But after attending communication courses as part of his work curriculum, Shah says he's learnt to be more rational. 

"Now I use my brain more than my emotions. [For example] If I'm hot-tempered and the patient's relative is also hot-tempered, it's not gonna solve anything. If I can't handle the situation, I'll just walk away." 

Passion keeps him going 

Although it was his initial interest in biology that got him started on his career, Shah says that one of his biggest motivators these days is his passion to care for his patients. 

"I do feel burnt out, and I do feel fatigue, I'm also a regular human being. But it's the passion that keeps me going. The patients that I see every day also keep me going. That's why I stay in nursing." 

With regard to his career, Shah says that his family has been "really supportive". To help him cope with the emotional toll that comes with his job, Shah says his family excuses him from housework — so that his free time is well-spent with his three-year-old daughter.

"She knows I'm a nurse, when we went to Toys 'R' Us she saw a stethoscope, and she said 'Like Papa', so she asked me to buy it for her." 

He added that the young girl has also taken to emulating his actions when he practices for his physical assessment exams, which he finds rather endearing.

Another aspect is the satisfaction of knowing that he has done his best to care for a patient. 

"My biggest takeaway in nursing is when I attend to a patient, and when everything is over, the family members will come and say thank you to me, or apologise to me. That's where I feel relieved and glad that everything I did is for [the benefit] of the patient." 

"Every day is different, but what stays the same is the difference I can make in my patients' lives." 

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