Beyond the hospital walls lies a transformative world of community healthcare, where patients learn to manage their health and live life to the fullest in the place they call home.

A slanted ray of sunlight falling across a room, a flask positioned on an edge, a disjointed floor tile — the minutiae of daily life may seem minor and unimportant, but reveal a world of information about a patient’s needs to a community nurse like Mr Goh Rui Hao.

Looking out for such seeming trivialities at home is important as they can lead to falls and injury; attending to them ensures a safe and accident-free living at home. These are things that nurses and other healthcare staff stationed in hospitals are not able to do.

“When I was working in the inpatient wards, I saw how much my colleagues and I were doing for patients. But I also wondered how the patients would be able to cope when they are discharged. Things happen on the ground, at home or in the community, so how will they cope on their own when they age and their conditions advance?” asked Mr Goh, Senior Staff Nurse (Community Nurse), PHICO-Community Nursing, Singapore General Hospital (SGH). “In the community setting, I can observe how patients’ actions impact daily life, like walking or showering. I can see if sunlight shining through a window affects sleep, or if they have strong home support.

A turning point came during the COVID-19 pandemic, when Mr Goh was assigned to dormitories housing migrant workers. “Many of them were unaware of public health issues, and became distressed when they caught COVID. This triggered a desire to go into community nursing to broaden my perspectives in healthcare,” Mr Goh added.

Mr Goh feels privileged to “enter” patients’ personal lives when he sees them at home. He remembers a cancer patient who, despite being in pain, confided in Mr Goh how he wanted to make music at church and touch his friends’ lives. “He played a song on the keyboard for me and I played a short tune for him. After this, he was encouraged to write more songs. It made me reflect on how much my work can help residents in small, intangible ways like sharing our mutual love of music,” said Mr Goh.

Mr Goh also leads the Temasek Foundation Parkinson’s disease programme as he had previously worked with inpatients with neurological conditions. “Under the programme, Parkinson’s disease patients learn to handle their symptoms to live safely and comfortably at home, including reducing their risks of falling,” he explained.

Mr Goh’s expansive career has found parallels in a favoured hobby — competitive fencing, a sport in which he has won a bronze in the foil category.

Just as an opponent can quickly lunge at him, a resident can suddenly face multiple medical issues. “Fencing has trained me to define my priorities clearly in my daily work, where I must collate information, decide which issue to resolve first, then explain the reasoning behind these decisions to the resident,” said Mr Goh.

The joy of partaking in fencing and making music resonates with Mr Goh’s future vision as well as that of those he serves. “To me, community nursing means empowering the community to manage their health and giving them care and concern so they can lead fulfilling lives with positive attitudes that touch others in the community,” said Mr Goh.

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