I was born in Malaysia, into a family of teachers. And I was good with Math and Physics, and beat all the boys at it. I was intrigued with machines, and my childhood aspiration was to operate a crane. When it was time to decide on my career, I chose to be an engineer.

That was when all hell broke loose. To my father, girls should not be engineers. He wanted me to do medicine. I refused. He wouldn’t talk to me. But I loved my father more than engineering. I changed my mind, and decided to do medicine.

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And so, I became a doctor. Family commitments drove me into the flexible locum route. That was when I chanced to locum at Singapore Cancer Society’s screening clinic. Gradually I moved to SCS’ Hospice Services. Then I got bitten by the “palliative bug”. This was where I truly encountered opportunity after opportunity to “cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always” (Hippocrates). This was where cancer patients had been told there was “no more cure”.

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Both patients and families felt somehow let down, by doctors, by hospitals, by science, by god, by anything and anyone they could lay blame upon. This is where I could come in and help them re-focus and embrace “the serenity to accept the things they cannot change, the courage to change the things they can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” (Adapted from Reinhold Niebuhr)

Palliative care is about treasuring the time that is left. It is about making full use of the resources at hand to bring a little more comfort, a little more joy, a little more peace into the precious lives of those who are a little nearer to the end their journey than the rest of us. Palliative care is also about how I learn to encourage my team of doctors, nurses, therapists, social workers, counsellors, pharmacist, administrative staff; as we collectively work towards providing that seamless care for our patients, night and day.

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Palliative care is how we push boundaries and challenge the status quo, just so our patients can experience something more than what a dying person normally expects. Palliative care is also about how I learn from my patients and their families. I learn about bravery, I learn about strength in the face of disappointment after disappointment. I learn how to stop and smell the fresh air, and appreciate life. I learn to say “thank you, God, for each new day”.

People wonder how I go on, seeing my patients die, one after another. But I tell them, it makes me a more joyful, grateful person. It is not just about focusing on a good death but rather, a good life!

 

Find out more or apply for hospice home care.

Dr Rina Nga hails from Malaysia and has been a doctor in Singapore for 29 years. She's been with SCS Hospice Services for the past 4 years and visits patients with her team of nurses and therapists. In her free time she enjoys music and plays the keyboard in church. She also enjoys spending time with her family, which includes a 9 year old Golden Lab!

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