‘Why are you doing this, you’re not a girl’: A male nurse opens up about the stigma of the job

‘Why are you doing this, you’re not a girl’: A male nurse opens up about the stigma of the job

Senior staff nurse Ryan Chua talks about defying stubborn stereotypes, and why he’s learning hair-dressing to help his patients, as Singapore marked Nurses' Day on Aug 1.

A nurse on weekdays, a hairdressing student at the weekend - all because a patient with a skin condition couldn't get a salon to give him a haircut. This Nurses' Day marked on Aug 1, a tribute to those who go beyond the call of duty. READ MORE.

SINGAPORE: As the only male nurse in the clinic, Mr Ryan Chua is used to receiving his fair share of curious stares and probing questions in a profession traditionally seen as the preserve of women.

Mr Chua, 31, is a senior staff nurse at National Skin Centre’s (NSC) phototherapy unit - a clinic entirely run and managed by nurses.

He recalled how a male patient at a ward once questioned his career choice. “This uncle asked me, ‘Why are you doing this, you’re not a girl.’

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Mr Chua is the only male nurse in the phototherapy unit at the National Skin Centre.

“I told him that there is no gender differences when it comes to helping someone. If you need to get out of bed, I’m in a better position to help you. I have more strength than our smaller petite-sized female colleagues. 

Caring for someone doesn’t have any gender dimensions. After all, a son also cares for his mother, 

said Mr Chua, who in  July received the  Health Ministry's Nurses Merit Award for his contributions to the profession.

More men like Mr Chua are joining the profession. The National Healthcare Group has seen a 25-per-cent increase in the number of male nurses over 2011 to 2016.

Still, even his auntie, who brought him up, was not convinced. “Whenever I visit her, she would ask me, ‘Why do you want to take up nursing, it’s a dirty job?”, he said.

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His aunt did not approve of his career choice. ‘It’s a dirty job,' she'd said.

It was an experience in the National Cadet Corps during his junior college days that inspired his career choice. One of his group mates had started hyperventilating, but no one knew what to do.

“A first-aid helper came forward, calmed her down and managed to control the situation with her knowledge," Mr Chua recounted.

“So I found that healthcare knowledge is really important, and it sparked my interest. Being able to help someone brings me great satisfaction at the end of the day."

Mr Chua has been a nurse for seven years. He worked in a hospital surgical ward before moving to the NSC, and now cares for patients in an outpatient setting.

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To him, being a nurse is more than just administering medical treatment and cleaning up after patients. He said:

Being a nurse goes beyond the four walls of the place that you work in. You don’t have to do a lot - but you can do things with great love to help the community.

“In NSC, we also play the role of a counsellor. We sit down with patients in a private room, to understand and lend a listening ear,” added Mr Chua, who has a Masters in Clinical Research.


And he has truly gone the extra mile for his patients - by enrolling in a hairstyling course on his own time during weekends, all in the name of patient care.

WATCH: Going above and beyond (4:12)

It started when one of his patients who has psoriasis - a chronic skin disorder characterised by the appearance of red, scaly patches of skin - told of how he was ostracised when he visited a hair salon.

Something as easy as getting a haircut, we take it for granted. But to them it is a kind of pain and suffering.

said Mr Chua. "The barber actually told him to choose another barber because when they looked at his scalp, they felt that it was contagious.

“But psoriasis is not contagious. So it inspired me to take up the hair-cutting course to help patients."

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Mr Lim is a psoriasis patient who needs regular phototherapy treatment.

The patient, who only wanted to be known as Mr Lim, said he was pleasantly surprised that the nurse was sacrificing his weekends just so he could help patients like him.

Mr Lim’s teenage daughter, also a psoriasis patient, was refused service by the same hair salon.

“They said that while they understand the medical condition is not contagious, they still have to chemical-wash their cutting equipment just to show their other customers,” Mr Lim said.

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Mr Lim was refused service at a hair salon due to the lesion on his scalp.

His experience is not unique as other patients at NSC with skin conditions such as vitiligo, a disease that causes the loss of skin color in blotches, also complained of getting questioned at the hairdresser's.

Said Mr Chua: “I’m not angry with people who stigmatise people with skin condition. It’s a lack of awareness. If you do not understand, you will tend to judge that it is contagious.

“But if I had a chance, I would tell them to put themselves in the patient's shoes. Would you want people to view you this way, although you know that it is not contagious?

"Or can we take a more mature stand and look at the patient differently?”

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Ryan Chua decided to pick up hairdressing at a community centre so that he can cut his patients' hair.


On his days off, Mr Chua does volunteer work, visiting the needy in rental flats to provide skin and diabetic foot assessments, and even cut their nails for them.

He also helps to screen migrant workers for common skin conditions such as fungal infections and for dystrophy, and educates them about the prevention of sexually-transmitted infections.

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Mr Chua visiting the needy in rental flats to provide skin and diabetic foot assessments.  (Photo: Ryan Chua)

And it is in these instances where being male truly helps.

“(Male) patients tend to open up to you more readily when it comes to sensitive topics like sexual health or skin conditions at the genital area.

“Some do sigh in relief when it’s me entering the treatment room instead of a female nurse, because some of them can be quite embarrassed when the lesions are at the genital area,” he said.

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Mr Chua educating migrant workers about the prevention of sexually transmitted infections. (Photo: Ryan Chua)

He believes that despite his relatives' initial reservations, and some resistance from the public, his efforts have paid off.

“What I have achieved and demonstrated to them is that nursing is a career, it’s not a dirty job like they say. Besides my family, friends and colleagues, the appreciation of patients motivates me to keep going as well,” he said.

And while the hours may be long and the work stressful at times, Mr Chua has never thought about leaving the profession. He focuses his energy on the patients' needs, rather than on the work constraints and frustrations.

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Mr Chua administering cryotherapy treatment.

The most meaningful part of the job, he says, is helping patients "at the worst stage of their life and helping them see the light at the end of the tunnel".

“Sometimes you will question yourself, why did you even come into this thing when you’re faced with very harsh criticisms from patients? You’ll feel very negative.

“But, at the end of the day, you just need someone to talk to and it will make you revisit the point of why you joined nursing in the first place - which is that you really want to help (others),” he said.

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Source: CNA/ry