Singapore’s Front Line: The Toll That a Pandemic Takes

Julie, 25, Staff Nurse

Of course, we aren’t happy about this. Nevertheless, we (still) are healthcare workers. We have a duty to take care of you and to take care of the public even if you treat us unfairly.

When Julie was told off by two aunties on the MRT for defending one of her fellow nurses, she felt indignant, but stood in silence.

“Of course there will always be some form of discrimination. But it is pointless to argue with them because they were most likely too caught up in that moment of anger to listen anyway.”

More astoundingly, we found out that Julie was off-duty and dressed in casual clothes at that point in time. “They were talking rather loudly… and I couldn’t take it anymore. I went up to them and told them that I was a nurse too, and to kindly be more understanding towards my fellow nurse because she is most likely tired too.”

“But before I could finish, they told me to back away because I was ‘dirty’ too. Just because I am a nurse.”

The ugly and unavoidable truth rears its head: there will always be instances when healthcare workers become victims of discrimination, especially in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

For Julie, being a nurse is more than just a job and she is well aware of the sacrifices that are needed to be made. 

“My mom was a midwife and I rarely saw her throughout my childhood. She came back home at irregular times and there was always the distinct smell of rubbing alcohol. Her hands were always rough. Now my hands are too.”

“She often says that donning the nurse uniform changes you. Even if you were an initially ‘bad’ person, you are forced to help people and not harm them. From there, you would slowly become a ‘good’ person.”

Julie with her mother and sister.

“Yes, the hours are long and you are on your feet all the time. Sometimes I am so tired but we still continue to push on as a team. But we do what we do because every life is important to us and we want to see our patients recover quickly. So I will not let this small incident hinder me from my duty.”

“I would not have picked a different career if given a choice. As a nurse, your life is forever transformed. Your eyes will be opened to a new world, your mouth will be taught to only say kind words and your hands will have the opportunity to touch lives.”

To the public, she has this to say:

“You do not have to go out of your way to thank us. All we ask is for your understanding that we are human and we have families too. We could be your father, your mother, your brother or your sister. We are just doing our jobs to take care of you, so please be kind to us.”

Jason, 28, Staff Nurse

To Jason, “it is the lack of knowledge, and sometimes even the lack of empathy by some members of the public for healthcare workers.” 

“You can’t blame them, though. Not every family has a member who is a healthcare worker, so it is more difficult for them to understand what the job entails. But this doesn’t give them a reason to lash out against us either.”

“To put it simply, we too are regular people like you. The difference is that we do not work 9-5 jobs. Our 10-hour shifts are at irregular times, (like) 7pm to 3am. Moreover, we often stay longer than what is required. We may also be called back at the last-minute to take over shifts. But we do what we do because we have a duty to take care of our patients.”

In his free time, Jason enjoys plays for the Novo Winds.

When asked if he was fearful that he would bring the virus back home, he said that there is no denying it. But this isn’t a reason to quit. 

If every healthcare worker quit because of this, there would be nobody left to attend to those in need of help. It is part and parcel of our jobs to swallow our fear to do what is best for everyone.

“This doesn’t stop my mom from nagging though,” he laughed. “She is the one telling me to wash my hands whenever I can even though I’m the nurse in our family. But I have no doubt that they are all proud of me and what I do.”

Dr. Peter Lim, 52, General Practitioner

To Peter Lim who has been a GP for over two decades, these viral outbreaks aren’t new. 

“It is part and parcel of my job because we are often the first ones to come into contact with the patients themselves. Flu season, SARS, H1N1, MERS… it isn’t new to me.”

When asked if he was particularly concerned about contracting the virus, he said that his clinic is one of the designated Public Health Preparedness Clinics which has been given special protective equipment from the government, so he feels safer.

Dr. Peter with his wife and son

Yet this danger in the line of his work is “unavoidable”, he says. It is a matter-of-fact to him.

Dr Lim also shared that “despite all (his) wife’s worry, she still tells (their) son to become a doctor like (him)!” He has no doubt that they are completely supportive of what he does because they understand that this profession is part of his life.

“Speaking for most doctors: we come into this profession because we have a calling. The long hours, blood and other grotesque realities are not easy to handle. For me, I believe that it is what God wants me to do because I can help more people by becoming a doctor.”

“Therefore, I will continue to do the very best that I can for the community and the people I love despite the risks.”

He also shared his views about the discrimination faced by healthcare workers.

“It is difficult to alter personal beliefs because they have been ingrained in the person after such a long time. So, there will always be unfounded discrimination against us.”

All we ask for is your trust. We know what we need to do, and what is best for the health of the community and for you.


Nelle Ng


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