Embracing dyslexia helped her find her calling as a palliative care nurse while serving the needy

Embracing dyslexia
Emily (front row, with glasses) and her family at Barker Road Methodist Church

Initially labelled as lazy in school because of her poor grades, Emily Yap felt indignant and hurt by her teachers’ insensitive comments. Her teachers did not know how hard she was working at home, or of the frustration she faced when she could not attain the grades she felt she deserved. Finally, with her parents’ encouragement, she got tested for dyslexia, which confirmed why she had struggled to read and took more time than her peers to do her work.

Today, Emily Yap, 24, is a palliative care nurse at Alexandra Hospital, after completing a nursing degree on scholarship. Not only that, she served the underprivileged and migrant worker community during the pandemic, rallying a group of friends and neighbours to join her. This was highlighted by PM-designate DPM Lawrence Wong in his parliamentary Budget 2023 speech as someone who embodied the Singapore spirit. “Emily has been hard at work at the Covid frontlines. Despite this heavy workload, she still volunteers on her off-days to care for the wider community … She also used her CDC vouchers—not for herself, but to buy kueh bangkit from her neighbourhood bakery and shared them with vulnerable families over the Lunar New Year,” DPM Wong said.1

Emily has worshipped at Barker Road Methodist Church with her family for the last 17 years. Methodist Message caught up with her on her day off to understand what drives her to serve others in both her profession and beyond, overcoming what had initially held her back—dyslexia.

Methodist Message (MM): How has dyslexia shaped your life?

Emily Yap (EY): I did badly in PSLE. I asked God, why me? Then I remembered the song “Jesus Loves Me”. I took comfort in knowing that I am a child of God and that I am loved. So I persevered and never gave up on myself because I believe that God would never give up on me. I had faith that he had a plan for me.

After PSLE, I got tested at the Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS) and was diagnosed with dyslexia. Initially, it was a setback. But the diagnosis led me to an awakening and instead, drove me to do better wherever I was. Having tasted failure before, it taught me not to take success for granted. I believe that everything is in God’s plan, even those moments of failure and struggle.

DAS taught me to understand myself better and I learned how to learn. I am grateful for the support that was given to me by DAS, the teachers and my family, who helped me to excel academically.  I was awarded a scholarship from Alexandra Hospital, and I graduated with a Bachelor of Science (Honours with Distinction) in Nursing from the Singapore Institute of Technology. Most recently, I received the NUHS post-graduate scholarship to pursue a Master of Public Health at NUS which will commence in August 2023.

Today, I see my dyslexia as a strength rather than a weakness. I don’t see dyslexia as a disability, but rather, as the ability to think outside the box. I’d like to think that people like me, because of our ability to think differently, can change how a company or industry behaves for the better. As a result, we will find an entirely new way of doing things.

MM: What drives you to serve the community, like delivering groceries to the elderly and low-income families?

EY: I found my passion for helping others at the height of the pandemic in 2020, when the risk assessment was raised to DORSCON Orange and many Singaporeans rushed to the supermarkets, emptied the shelves and stock-piled food. As I worried for the safety of my grandmother, who would go marketing amidst the crowds and long queues, I couldn’t help but wonder how other elderly and lower income families would secure their daily necessities.

This then led me to feel like I had to do something for the vulnerable. So I started Dunearn Youth, a ground-up initiative to serve the elderly and needy families.

Emily sharing about her community work at a townhall at Alexandra Hospital
Emily sharing about her community work at a townhall at Alexandra Hospital

I applied for the National Youth Council’s Young Changemakers Grant. I gathered a few friends and neighbours, purchased essential items with the funds and started delivering groceries to lower income families. The experience I gained from this was something special, a unique feeling that I have never felt before. The warmth I felt in my heart upon seeing how happy these families were to receive groceries was honestly amazing and it inspired me to continue this charity work with the support of Temasek Trust’s oscar@sg fund. I am grateful to God for giving me this opportunity to live out my faith in practical ways. When we care for others, our lives become a living testimony of our faith. Community is an essential part of Christianity.

MM: You’ve been featured in the media a lot. Has the media attention you’ve received surprised you?

EY: I want to acknowledge God in the things that I do. If the media coverage inspires others into action, then that’s a good thing.

MM: Why did you choose to be in palliative care? It’s tough to be in this area of health care, isn’t it?

EY: My maternal grandma was a palliative care patient until she passed from cancer. I choose to be a palliative care nurse because the nurses took such good care of my grandma and I would like to pay it forward. My paternal grandma was a nurse also, and she inspired me to think of nursing as a vocation. I believe that it is my calling.

Emily with fellow volunteers delivering carepacks in the Clementi Meadows neighbourhood in 2022
Emily with fellow volunteers delivering carepacks in the Clementi Meadows neighbourhood in 2022

Recently, one of my patients was re- admitted and when she saw me, she exclaimed, “My guardian angel, Nurse Emily!” I was touched that she remembered me. It was then that I realised that as a nurse, I am not only in a position to deliver healthcare to someone in need, but what I do also leaves a meaningful and impactful impression on the patients that I care for. When you truly love God, loving people becomes second nature.

On days when a palliative patient whom I have grown close to passes, I feel very sad. I go home, let myself cry it out and pray. And the next day, I pick myself up and continue to serve, renewed in his Spirit.

MM: How has your family influenced your walk with Christ?

EY: My grandparents are the kindest people I know. They always believed in giving back to the community, and I have continued with that same philosophy. My idea of success used to be about what I have achieved but now I think that it is about what I give, about the positive impact that I make.

1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhjfZWJS9jU

Lianne Ong is the Editor of Methodist Message.