Learning > Inspiration

Never too late to pursue your dream career

Hector Tan on 01 Aug 2015

The Straits Times


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A 56-year-old’s mid-career transition to nursing is an inspiration for all.


As novelist George Eliot said: “It is never too late to be what you might have been”. 

Living by this mantra is SingHealth Polyclinic's senior staff nurse Cherry Tan, 56, who used to be a Major in the Singa-pore Armed Forces (SAF). After 25 years in the military, she left to pursue her dream of being a nurse at the age of 46 years old. 

Ms Tan said: “Serving as an officer in the army was rewarding. I took on a wide range of responsibilities that built up my confidence and taught me many skills which served me well in other areas of life.

“But I never forgot my childhood dream throughout the years I was in the army. This was due to the strong impression that nurses left on me when I was in the hospital as a child. The thoughtful care I received from them made me realise that nursing is tough physically, mentally, and emotionally.”

“Nurses care for patients even when patients are mentally unstable and risk their lives when faced with life-threatening situations during the course of duty. The courage and unconditional love I experienced inspired me to become a nurse,” said Ms Tan. 

Her aspirations took hold at a young age, when she served in the Red Cross Society during secondary school, learning first aid skills and attending blood donation drives. She intended to apply for a nursing major after graduating from A-levels. 

But her dreams were shelved as she had family expectations to fulfil.

“My elder brothers were enlisted in the NS. Being naive, I joined the military hoping to be with them if there ever was a war,” said Ms Tan.

In 2004, at the age of 46, she felt it was time to act on her dream. Her friends and colleagues thought it was a reckless move at that time.

Ms Tan said: “I held an admired position in the military. People thought that I was out of my mind to switch to a field that I was not an expert in. Nevertheless, I received their blessings as they could see that I had made up my mind.”

She started as a practising nurse for a year, before getting a degree in nursing from La Trobe University in Australia, specialising in community health and preventive care. She believes that disease prevention is one direction that healthcare should head towards, given an aging population and increasing prevalence of chronic diseases. 

“When I started, I had to adjust to a vastly different culture and environ-ment as nursing is a dynamic profession that requires organisational skills, strategic planning and mental toughness. But I was psychologically prepared,” said Ms Tan.

Today, she strives to improve herself with the goal of making lives better for her patients. She is currently studying for a doctorate degree in nursing at the National University of Singapore, conducting a research program that tests the effectiveness of a self-treatment programme for elderly diabetics.

Ms Tan’s word of advice to aspiring nurses?

“If you are considering a career in nursing, I urge you to take on the challenge. Besides contributing to society, nurses have many opportunities to grow and excel. They can branch out to other career paths, such as clinical care, education and research. 


“It doesn’t matter if you are young or in a mid-career stage. Age is just a number. Your life is measured by your dreams and passions. You can be as good as any expert in any field as long as you have the drive to overcome obstacles and fulfil your dreams.”

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.

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