“I am a nurse.”
That was how associate professor Dr Hajah Rohani Arshad introduced herself when we met recently.
One can feel the pride of her profession from her when she said that, yet humble she remains. Call me ‘Rohani’, she said, “tak payah (no need) Doctor or Prof”.
Rohani has been a practising nurse and administrator since 1973 when she graduated from St George Hospital, Kogarah, Australia.
Starting out as a registered staff nurse, she rose through the ranks, serving in various capacities at the University Hospital (now known as University Malaya Medical Centre) under the Ministry of Education, Malaysia.
Twenty-five years later, then serving as a senior matron, she decided to buck the trend from continuing in nursing administration and moved into nursing education. She did this after securing her Master of Science degree in Nursing and Education at University of Edinburgh in Scotland.
Rohani became a lecturer and later the head of department of nursing sciences with the Nursing Education Unit under the Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya. She retired as an associate professor in 2008.
However, retirement is not the name of the game for her.
“After 40 years of contributing to the healthcare industry, primarily nursing, I could not just retire. I still wanted to equip and empower nurses at all levels to raise the bar for themselves.
“They need to recognise that nursing is not a dead-end job. Nursing opens doors to other related opportunities,” said Rohani, the two-time winner of the Tokoh Jururawat Malaysia (Exemplary Nurse of Malaysia) award in 2004 and 2014.
Rohani is the first Malaysian nurse to set up a private training company for nurses.
Rohani is currently the adjunct professor with the Faculty of Nursing at MAHSA University, and the executive chairman of Nursing Professional Group. The educational and professional development company on nursing, which carries the motto ‘From Nurses to Nurses’, is owned and managed by nurses.
“My ultimate goal as a nursing lecturer is to challenge, influence and inspire students and other nurses to reach their stretch goals.
“This means our patients will get the best care from the best students,” said the first and only Malaysian nurse to have written the widely-used book titled Effective Communication in Nursing.
“My own experience is proof that nursing is a flexible profession and it is up to one how far one wants to go,” said Rohani, who earned her doctoral degree in education from Open University Malaysia in 2013 at the age of 61.
Indeed an amazing inspiring journey for the second eldest of 12 siblings, who was told to “stay home and take care of your brothers and sisters!”
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Nurture the belief
“Only those who attempt the absurd can achieve the impossible.” – Albert Einstein
Reflecting on her journey, Rohani recalled the conversation she had with her father.
“When the Senior Cambridge results were released, I scored a Grade Two. I was proud of myself. Despite having to juggle caring for my 10 siblings, housework and homework, I did it!
“No one gave me a chance. But my father did. He was the only person who always believed and supported me.
“When I told him I wanted to be a nurse all because I wanted to adorn the crisp white uniform, he said, ‘You can be a nurse but not an ordinary nurse; you must be Professor Dr Hajah Rohani bte Hj Arshad.’
“I replied: ‘Ayah, nurses cannot be a Dr or a Professor; that is meant only for doctors.’ He looked deep into my eyes, with a knowing smile.
“Today, his seed of belief in me has become a reality despite the challenges and hurdles faced.”
From a young timid teenage nursing student in Sydney, Australia, Rohani came back to Malaysia to work as a registered nurse in University Hospital, and continued pedalling ahead to become the first matron in Malaysia who switched to be an academician.
Today, she is ‘Associate Professor Dr Hajah Rohani bte Hj Arshad’. Yes, daddy’s girl has made his vision and her dream come true!
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Step out of your comfort zone
“A ship in a harbour is safe but that is not what a ship is built for.” – Unknown
Rohani’s foray into different branches of nursing took off when she was called in by her then gynaecological ward sister, Mary Thomas.
“Rohani, you have been climbing the steep mountain excellently but you have now reached a plateau. Wake up and continue climbing. You have the potential to do more! And remember, even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you do not move!” she said.
With that wake up call, Rohani never looked back. The word of advice gave her the courage, strength and confidence to leave her comfortable cocoon every time she pauses at one in her career journey.
It is this vote of confidence, too, that has spurred this mother of four and grandmother of 11 to terrains and heights she never had imagined when she first started out in the crisp white uniform.
True to form, it only takes a spark to get the fire going. Do you or does someone you know need that spark? Light it up!
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Born in Terengganu, educated and grew up in Singapore, married into a traditional Malay family from Penang, Rohani has indeed achieved much in life. When asked what are her guiding principles, the three-time winner of the Excellent Employee award and Dedication award by University of Malaya shares:
- Peace: Always maintain internal and external peace.
“When someone hurts and pulls you down, don’t be sad because you are at the top, they are down below.”
- Passion: Love what you do intensely, and the outcome will show.
“People will throw stones in your path. Collect and use them to build a bridge to achieve your dream, not a wall to prevent you from achieving it.”
- Productive: Plan and work for an outstanding outcome; always aim for the best.
“If you do not invest time to prepare, you will be wasting time to repair. The past is a nice place to visit, but not a good place to stay. So, move on.”
- Persistence: Never give up. Listen to your heart.
“Take risks. If you win, you lead. If you lose, you will learn and can guide others not to make similar mistakes. If there are conflicts, don’t avoid them. Work to resolve them with solutions.”
- Pray: The Almighty has the ultimate say.
“You can plan and decide what you want and desire, but it is the Almighty who will grant your doa (prayer) and effort.”
Rohani also advocates the balance of three spheres in our lives – spiritual, personal and professional.
“These spheres must be equally balanced. Occasionally they do overlap but consciously and quickly correct it. Do not live lopsided for too long in any of the spheres,” she advised.
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Nursing is no dead-end profession
True to her mission of inspiring nurses to further develop their cognitive skills to enhance the service quality of the nursing profession, Rohani has indeed ‘opened the doors’ for others.
Rohani (seated with bouquet of flowers), with nursing leaders from Pantai Hospital at the Transforming Nursing Leaders workshop.
Mariam Mohd Nasir, a former staff, began her career as a registered nurse. She went on to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing Sciences, thereafter the Master’s degree in Business Administration. She also holds a certificate in Wound, Ostomy and Continence Education from Princess Margaret Hospital, Hong Kong.
She was the chief nursing officer and an enterostomal therapist at University Malaya Medical Centre before venturing out to set up her own company, M&T Network Consultancy.
“Dr Rohani has been a very huge influence on me and made a great impact on my career. She never stops thinking of doing great things. She is dynamic. I want to be like her,” said Mariam, who is a much sought-after speaker internationally.
Former student Indiranee Batumalai started out as a registered nurse in 1988. Today, armed with a Master’s degree in Nursing Sciences, she is the state matron of Selangor under the Selangor State Ministry of Health.
Haslina Zainuddin, who graduated with a Diploma in Nursing in 1982, has, under the mentorship of Rohani, gone on to ‘break out’ of her comfort zone.
She equipped herself with management studies, and is today the vice president of Corporate Services and Talent Management with DEMC Specialist Hospital Shah Alam. Haslina is Rohani’s former staff.
Dr Tan Li Yoong, who was a nursing student with Rohani as her lecturer and thereafter as her boss when she was a junior lecturer, is today a senior lecturer with the Department of Nursing Sciences at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya.
“Rohani’s leadership is transformational; she sets the direction, helps others to do the right things, creates an inspiring vision and motivates others to reach that vision,” said Tan.
“It is our hope that as more and more of the 130,000 nurses in Malaysia are continually equipped with better cognitive skills, the nursing fraternity will eventually be recognised as a key function of the country’s healthcare industry,” Rohani said.
Rohani’s journey and that of her ‘mentees’ are testament that nursing is not a dead-end profession. Neither is other profession. The sky’s the limit. It is up to us to reach out for it.
“Dare to dream and build on your dreams. If not, someone else will hire you to build theirs,” advised Associate Prof Dr Hajah Rohani, a nursing practitioner, administrator, educator, researcher and entrepreneur.