Better late than never, says Ms Frida Wong, an award-winning nurse who loves learning but found herself slower than her peers. But she didn’t let that stop her. What lessons does she pass on to her two children today?
Ms Frida Wong is a nurse and busy mother of two young adults, so keeping time is important for her days to go smoothly.
When it comes to her education and career, however, she prefers to move to her own beat, never feeling fussed by what everyone else is doing.
She readily offers that she completed her O Levels at 19 when most of her peers took the national examination at 16 or 17. She also obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Nursing at 35, about a decade later than usual.
“I am definitely a late bloomer,” Ms Wong declares with a laugh. “After my N Levels, I sat for my O Levels twice, to get a better grade and qualify for the School of Nursing. I didn’t mind, as I understood my limits and goals and went at my own pace.”
What’s the rush as long as you are improving?
Ms Wong always knew she wanted to be a nurse. When she was young, she saw how nurses had so carefully tended to her mother when she was ill with cancer, and wanted to make a similar difference in someone else’s life.
She was so sure about nursing, she would not settle for just any course that would accept her. But because she wanted to make time to start a family, she also took her time to earn more credentials.
She completed her Advanced Diploma in Gerontological Nursing in 2008, and then pursued a Masters degree in Nursing from the National University of Singapore (NUS).
In 2019, she attended the National Collaborative Prescribing Programme at NUS to obtain a licence to prescribe medicine as a clinical Advanced Practice Nurse (APN).
Two years later, Ms Wong received the Nurses’ Merit Award, a commendation from the Ministry of Health.
Her willingness to learn also keeps her on her toes, says the Nurse Clinician at SingHealth Polyclinics, who manages patients with chronic diseases together with the medical team.
Her role includes conducting physical examinations, ordering tests and interpreting blood test results, evaluating patients’ response to a change in medication, and providing patient education.
As much as she considers herself “slower than others to grasp things”, Ms Wong is a persistent learner, bagging certificate after certificate in her quest for knowledge; she once took up a Diploma in Business Administration, totally unrelated to her work, just to see how businesses work.
It is this spirit of pursuit that she inculcates in her children, to never stop improving, at one’s own time and pace, and without comparing one’s journey with others.
‘We accept our kids’ limitations and their strengths’
Ms Wong recalls how her son Thaniel, now 21, “was very stressed and upset with himself” when his O-Level results fell short of his expectations. She and her husband gave him space to reflect and consider his next steps. He steadied himself, did some research, and eventually enrolled with the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) to do a Higher Nitec course in Financial Services.
“Sometimes they study so hard, but just cannot remember the facts when it comes to exams. When I realised that my kids are like me, I stepped up my support and told them, ‘Do your best and put in the effort. Mummy will accept the results.’”
“We have to accept our kids' limitations and their strengths,” she adds. “If they are late bloomers, you can't force them to be early achievers. If you keep pushing them, their mental wellness will be affected eventually.”
Daughter Talisa, 19, is following in her footsteps and pursuing a diploma in Nursing at Nanyang Polytechnic. She put her own stamp on her education path, opting to join the five-year Normal (Academic) (NA) course even though she was assigned the four-year Express stream.
“I encouraged Talisa to do N(A) and take an extra year, as I didn’t want her to struggle and get demoralised,” explains Ms Wong. This approach turned out well for her too. “You know what? She was always among the top two students in her secondary school cohort, and received many Edusave awards.”
Fringe benefits aplenty for doing it their way
Taking the extra time they needed also allowed Thaniel and Talisa to work part-time, and getting firsthand experience of life in different industries. Talisa has worked at a dog café, an ice cream café, a childcare centre, patient registration at a clinic, and as a Safe Entry ambassador – every gig added to her bag of skills.
“She has become better with interpersonal relationships and communicating with people,” says her proud mum. “When she was working as a Safe Entry ambassador, she would get scolded by the aunties and uncles when she asks them to queue before scanning their TraceTogether tokens. She now knows how to handle such situations; this will definitely help her in dealing with patients in nursing.”
For Thaniel, to take his time meant having time to discover his interests, which have shifted unexpectedly towards healthcare too. He got involved in caring for his grandmother who has dementia, and found the experience of caring for an elderly person both uplifting and meaningful. A school trip during secondary school to a senior citizens’ home also left a big impression on him. A patient there had gifted him with a decorative item made from recycled materials, a memento he intends to keep. After some reflection on his post-ITE path, he is hoping to pursue a polytechnic diploma in Social Sciences in Gerontology.
Says Ms Wong, “If he doesn't get into a poly, it's fine. He can serve National Service first, then we plan what we can do after that.”
The older-student advantage: maturity and wisdom
There are other benefits to taking a longer, winding path to self-fulfillment. With age comes more maturity, self-knowledge and wisdom.
“They will know better what they want in life. They are more focused and are more grateful for the opportunities given to them,” says Ms Wong, adding, “Thaniel was disappointed when he received his O-Level results, and now he really appreciates the opportunity to do more with his polytechnic studies.”
The longer road to success also brought opportunities for exploration and for cultivating passions and values. Ultimately, it’s never too late to Ms Wong and her children when it comes to setting their educational or professional milestones. As her latest award testifies, the usual secret sauce to success – determination, focus, hard work and people who believe in you – would get her there anyway.
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