Many of us have faced a career dilemma at some point in our lives — whether it was during our schooling years, our first job, or even in a long-standing career many years down the road.
Regardless of when we face this age-old career conundrum, a career switch to a completely unrelated industry can seem daunting, especially so in our later years.
Doubts such as whether we are too old to be making a mid-career switch, whether we have the necessary skills required, or whether we have invested way too much time, effort, and money into pursuing our current career, are certainly not uncommon to have — which was why I was surprised when Bernice Soh, an ex-banking & finance professional, told me that it wasn’t a difficult decision for her to make the transition to be a professional caregiver back in 2018.
An eloquent and bubbly lady who is able to converse in English, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Hokkien, Bernice is now a Care Pro with Homage, where she has been trained to take on various ad hoc home caregiving assignments with the elderly. In particular, she has a penchant for caring for those suffering from dementia, having once looked after her dementia-stricken mum herself. What brings her the most joy and fulfilment is accompanying those under her care to their medical appointments, or engaging them with handicrafts or games — seemingly simple tasks that are able to put a huge smile on their faces.
The start of her caregiving journey
About 15 years ago, back when Bernice was working full-time in the banking & finance sector, she received the unfortunate news that her mother was diagnosed with diabetes. On top of her full-time job, Bernice found herself to be the sole caregiver to her mum — helping her to shower, escorting her to the hospital, giving her insulin jabs, and attending to all her personal needs.
“Every morning before I left for work, I had to ensure that I gave my mum her insulin jab so she could eat her breakfast… after work, I had to rush back home to administer the insulin jab before dinner,” Bernice recalled. “It was incredibly stressful and draining especially when I didn’t have anyone to help me out with the caregiving duties. I couldn’t catch a break.”
Bernice’s situation is unfortunately quite common for many Singaporeans. The number of caregivers in Singapore has risen to approximately 210,000 due to our ageing population, with about 70 per cent of caregivers being 40 and above. This also means that more Singaporeans are likely to face caregiver stress and burnout, as the pressure of being the primary caregiver of a loved one can be immense.
For Bernice, with the growing burden and stress that came with caring for her mother, whose health was deteriorating over the years, she eventually decided to hire a helper to lighten her load.
“At that time, there was no such thing as home care services, and companies like Homage didn’t exist,” said Bernice. “I felt like I was almost at my breaking point then, and I knew I had to seek help. It was challenging to juggle so many things at once, and I count myself to be very very blessed to be able to afford hiring a maid — I understand that not everyone has the same privilege as I did,”
“Now whenever I meet different families who are struggling with similar situations, I truly empathise and feel for them and want to try my best to help alleviate their burdens.”
My advice to other caregivers out there is that if you are aware that you are going to hit your breaking point soon, please don’t be afraid to ask for help from your family, friends, or even your local community services.
I couldn’t help but agree with Bernice on the importance of reaching out for help immediately once you notice any signs of burnout — it can naturally be an overwhelming process having to juggle responsibilities both at home and the workplace.
As Bernice’s mother aged, her health also deteriorated and she started to suffer from mild dementia. “There were instances where she’d wander and I’d be unable to find her. I even had to go to a police station once to file a missing person report,” she shared. “She’d also do repetitive tasks and forget things that she’s already done such as cooking meals; I had to resort to hiding the rice cooker from her just so she’ll not cook multiple times a day!” Bernice recalled fondly with a laugh.
Caring for an elderly person can be an overwhelming affair as it is not uncommon for an older adult to have more than one illness alone. Common age-related diseases such as dementia, arthritis, or osteoporosis tend to surface as one gets older. It is especially worrying when an elderly falls sick — something that’s considered minor like the common flu can lead to many serious complications in an older adult such as bronchitis, organ failure and pneumonia.
When asked further on why Bernice decided to join the caregiving profession, she shared, “Amongst many other reasons, one reason that lies close to my heart is that I miss my late mum and dad a lot and I want to relive the fond memories I had with them by interacting with the elderly, who remind me dearly of them… I feel incredibly honoured to be given that trust to better a person’s life and journey through every failure and win with them.”
A calling to provide care for the elderly
After her mother passed on in 2015, Bernice was hit by another setback just two years later, when she was unexpectedly retrenched from her full-time job. Apart from facing the distress that came with being retrenched, Bernice also contemplated on whether she should make a career switch to something that she would find more purposeful and fulfilling instead of a corporate job.
“I faced a career dilemma at that point in time. I know that I’ve always been interested in the healthcare industry, but I didn’t have the skills required to enter. At my age, enrolling into nursing school can be quite daunting seeing that the runway is pretty long and I wasn’t sure if it was something that I was able to commit to,” Bernice shared.
She happened to scroll through a job portal one day where she counts it a stroke of luck to have come across Homage’s job posting to be a Care Pro. “The first time I came across the job posting, I honestly thought it was such a cool and novel idea — not only were the barriers to entry low, it was flexible without a need for long-term commitment and was exactly what I was looking for.”
It has been almost four years since Bernice made the life-changing decision to join Homage, and she has never looked back since.
At Homage, as part of the Care Pros’ upskilling and training efforts, the company offers various attachment opportunities with its partner healthcare providers. In hopes of familiarising herself with the healthcare scene, Bernice decided to take up a contract assignment to work as a healthcare assistant at Yishun Community Hospital. During her stint, she assisted the nurses to shower, feed, and take care of the personal hygiene of patients, and also helped with nasogastric tube (NGT) feeding, clearing of urine bags, as well as taking measurements like blood pressure and vital statistics for the patients.
Her time at the hospital proved to come in handy as a professional caregiver, as she was more familiar with what she can do to help her own clients; having learned various caregiving techniques such as transferring a person from the bed to a wheelchair. “While my time at Yishun Community Hospital was cut short by 2 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, being attached to a ward gave me the hands-on experience I’m unable to get anywhere else. I learned a great deal during my time there and it has equipped me with better skills to be an all-rounded caregiver,” said Bernice.
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Bernice now focuses most of her caregiving duties on being a medical escort and caring for dementia patients — both areas that she is highly-experienced and interested in. As she looked back on how her caregiving career began, Bernice expressed earnestly that it was indeed a calling for her to be a caregiver as everything seemed to have lined up perfectly. “My friends all tell me that I look so much happier now with this job,” said Bernice with a laugh. “I’m naturally a people person who loves interacting with and caring for the elderly. People may think this is a drastic career pivot but to me it really wasn’t a difficult choice to make at all.”
I could tell that Bernice was a natural when it came to connecting and engaging with anyone she speaks to, and I can only imagine how much joy and laughter she brings to the elderly folks under her care, who sometimes just need a listening ear and a lively companion to tide them through their loneliness.
Providing love and companionship
Needless to say, during her time at Homage, Bernice has forged countless friendships and bonds with the elderly folks she cared for.
Bringing joy and smiles to the faces of the elderly and providing a short respite to their family members is incredibly rewarding and fulfilling to me.
Speaking to Bernice, her affable and vivacious personality shone through, and it was easy to see why she has many clients who request for her services and companionship on a regular basis. Clocking close to 700 visits to date, Bernice is highly demanded by her clients, who always share raving reviews of her and her excellent service after her visits.
“When I accompany my clients to their medical appointments, the doctor often asks how am I related to the patient,” Bernice shared with a laugh. “Instead of introducing me as their medical escort, some of my clients refer to me as their friend, which I am always so heartened and touched by.”
These visits to the doctor also expands her knowledge on different medical conditions and teaches her to prioritise and care for her own health above everything else. “When you see the elderly suffering from these chronic illnesses, it can be really depressing, and this also serves as a constant reminder to myself to look after my own health well so I won’t end up suffering when I’m old,” Bernice adds.
Bernice loves that being a Care Pro in Homage allows her to meet different people from all walks of life; she shares that even if it is just two to three hours of keeping them company while waiting for their appointments, it is more than enough time to get to know her clients and their stories better. “The fact that the family members treat me as part of their family and trust me enough to look after their loved one really touches my heart. I want to do my best for them and their loved ones in return,” Bernice shared.
Just by hearing Bernice speak so fervently about her motivations for caring for the elderly, I can feel the genuine care and concern she has for every person she has crossed paths with.
Not all sunshines and rainbows
Despite having many great experiences — as with any job and life experience — it is inevitable for everything to be smooth sailing. Bernice experienced a couple of difficult cases — from aggressive clients who weren’t able to control themselves emotionally to those who had unrealistic demands. However, she highlights that these cases were few and far between.
“When I face an unpleasant situation with any one of my clients, or if I feel like I am not well-equipped to handle certain conditions, I’ll raise it up with the Homage team immediately, who are always very pleasant to speak to and quick to act in cancelling any upcoming visits with the client if they feel like my safety is at risk,” Bernice shared. At Homage, the Care Pros’ well-being and safety is prioritised and will not be overlooked. In the event that a client is physically aggressive or emotional towards the Care Pros, such cases will not be taken lightly and the team will take any necessary action immediately.
When asked if she has any advice for other Care Pros on how to handle such difficult cases, Bernice shared that on top of voicing it out to the Homage team immediately, it is also important to adjust your mindset to be understanding and empathetic as some behaviour exhibited can be uncontrollable from the client due to their existing illnesses. “Consider it to be an isolated case and don’t take it personally,” Bernice adds. “Take it as a learning experience and always go for your visits with an open heart. If you feel like you need more training in a particular area, don’t be afraid to let the Homage team know — the last thing you want to do is to self-blame and condemn yourself on why you can’t handle such situations. Remember to be kind to yourself.”
Lifelong friendships forged through care
Bernice has managed to forge many close relationships especially with those she has cared for a significant period of time. One particular individual who had left a deep impact on her was none other than late Mdm Lim Ah Choo, who she met in July 2021. During their first encounter, Bernice shared that Mdm Lim’s serious exterior dissipated as soon as they got down to chatting while waiting for Mdm Lim’s test results at the hospital.
Bernice and Mdm Lim forged a strong friendship from the get go and were able to build rapport by sharing their own experiences and problems with each other. On top of that, Bernice highlighted that Mdm Lim reminded her dearly of her late mum and even cared for her like a mother would — always there to lend her a listening ear and even going to the extent of preparing sambal belacan and curry paste specially for her, knowing that Bernice loved spicy food.
Unfortunately, Mdm Lim’s condition worsened in December last year, which caused her to be hospitalised. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, Bernice was also unable to visit her during that time, and it was not until February this year when Mdm Lim was discharged and transferred to a hospice that Bernice was able to visit her for the very last time. During her visit, Bernice shared despondently that Mdm Lim was already too weak and could not speak or recognise who she was — about a week later, Mdm Lim passed away peacefully. After forging such an intimate bond with Mdm Lim, it was not an easy time for Bernice. “I miss her dearly,” Bernice shared truthfully. “I’m very glad and honoured to have been part of the last few moments of her life.”
Making such a huge career transition in your later years can be daunting, but Bernice encourages everyone to take the leap of faith to pursue that career you have always thought about but never got the chance to do.
“The joy that comes with making a difference in other people’s lives is just something that money can’t buy,” Bernice adds. “This job has brought out the best in me and changed my perspective on life drastically. Seeing the people I care for happy keeps me going and it has also allowed me to really prioritise my own health and well-being.”
This was one decision that I’ve never regretted and I can’t be more thankful to have chanced upon this job posting and for making the decision to apply for this role on that day.
If you, like Bernice, are looking for a meaningful, flexible, and well-paying career in caregiving, join us as a Care Pro today!