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Cyrus Leung, a graduate of the Master of Nursing (Chinese Medicinal Nursing) programme, who is just in his early 30s, has already become the Assistant Superintendent of an elderly home. This is quite an achievement against the background of a shortage of young professionals in the industry. Eleven years ago when Cyrus served as a medical nurse in a hospital in Taiwan, he decided to return to Hong Kong to work in an elderly home. Cyrus firmly believes that nursing services should keep pace with the times and has done much to enliven his workplace. He found the knowledge of Chinese medicinal nursing gained from the postgraduate programme very useful for his daily work.

People-oriented approach for elderly care and teammates

Upon his return to Hong Kong, Cyrus joined a newly established contract home as a frontline nurse. Such homes accept many elderly people who need in-depth personalized care. Cyrus often had to deal with unexpected incidents and handle difficult situations, which allowed him to learn more. ‘While hospitals’ focus is on treating diseases, elderly and nursing homes have to take care of the body, mind and soul of its residents, and can bring the spirit of nursing to greater heights,’ he said. With his passion for elderly care and dedication to work, Cyrus became the Assistant Superintendent of Pok Oi Hospital Tai Kwan Care & Attention Home in 2016.

Recalling the time when he first took office and had to meet staff members who were older and more experienced, he said frankly that ‘it was indeed a bit intimidating’. Doing his job conscientiously and noting the importance of empathy, he considers not only the needs of the elderly and their families but also the feelings of colleagues. ‘After the shifts each day, staff members have the chance to share their joys and discuss challenges at work. They can also  WhatsApp or talk to me face-to-face any time, so that any problem can be dealt with as soon as possible,’ he said.

In recent years, various kinds of gerontechnological products can be found in the market, which help improve the lives of the elderly. But Cyrus is more concerned about spiritual and psychological needs. ‘The warmth of a consoling remark from a human being cannot be conveyed by a piece of machinery. Many elderly people have said that they would prefer to have someone to talk to instead of lots of entertainment,’ he said. He hopes that his teammates will agree and do their best to serve the elderly with their hearts. Cyrus has also tried to promote these ideas in the workplace by honouring staff with outstanding performance and giving them leadership roles. ‘Once a caring atmosphere and people-oriented service culture have been built up in the workplace, colleagues began to see the merits and have been most willing to put such ideas into practice,’ he said.

Enhancing vitality for more meaningful and happier lives

As a young manager, Cyrus would like to see more new ideas being put into elderly care, giving the industry more momentum to move forward. A few years ago, when engay food, exquisite soft meals specially designed for people with dysphagia (swallowing difficulties), have not yet become popular in Hong Kong, he had already tried to prepare them in the elderly home at which he worked to improve diet quality. ‘Engay food not only looks good. It is easy to eat, which not just enhances the appetite of the elderly but also reduces the risk of choking. Afterwards, we shared our experience with counterparts and got a lot of positive feedback,’ he said.

The journey from old age to death can be short. Cyrus has seen elderly friends get frail and pass away. ‘It wasn’t easy in the beginning. Really heart-breaking,’ he said emotionally. The experience made him realize the importance of serving the elderly with a positive attitude. In his interaction with elderly people, he got to know that many of them counted down to life’s end with a negative mindset. ‘Young people have many future plans. I hope people living in elderly homes can feel the same and have things to look forward to in life, so that they can have fun – not just thinking about the past,’ he said. For example, there should be competitions and awards for special events such as annual sports games. ‘Elderly people often do not have the motivation to do physiotherapy regularly. If they are able to participate in the games, they would have a goal for training and exercise and enjoy it,’ he said. Cyrus also tried to include new elements in the games each year to add more fun to them. ‘Creative ideas can bring a richer dimension to the lives of the elderly and make their time here more wonderful,’ he said.

Integrating Chinese and Western theories to enhance the quality of nursing

It is quite common for the elderly in Hong Kong to take Chinese medicine for treatment, which brings challenges to the operation of elderly homes. ‘For example, most nurses haven’t received training in the distribution of Chinese medicine, and they worry about the side-effects of patients taking both Chinese and Western medicine,’ he said. A registered nurse with Western training, Cyrus enrolled on our Master of Nursing (Chinese Medicinal Nursing) programme in 2017 and had an internship opportunity at a Chinese medicine hospital in the mainland. ‘It was an eye-opening experience! The model for combined Chinese and Western medicine treatment is well established there. Hong Kong has a long way to go,’ he said. The knowledge that Cyrus gained from the programme has really been beneficial for his work. Tasked with the role of a gatekeeper, Cyrus is now responsible for reviewing Chinese medicine prescriptions and giving instructions on taking medications. He has invited members of the Chinese Medicinal Nursing Association (Alumni) of the University to provide training activities for his colleagues. Cyrus also actively participates in Association affairs to promote Chinese medicinal nursing and its integration into the specialist medical system.

Elderly homes are set up to care for the old people, but more youthful vitality needs to be injected into the management, operation and personnel of these facilities. ‘In fact, elderly people love to connect with the young and are willing to open their hearts to them,’ he said. Insufficient manpower has been a long-running problem of the elderly care profession. ‘Elderly care doesn’t pay well, but it is very meaningful. The work environment may make you feel disheartened from time to time. But only people with a sense of mission to help the disadvantaged would have joined the industry in the first place. When you feel discouraged or a bit let down, try to think about why you entered the profession originally,’ he said earnestly.