Her commitment and dedication to improving the lives of patients with disabilities spurred Dr Dawn Tan, principal physiotherapist at Singapore General Hospital (SGH), along the path of her chosen career. She availed herself of all opportunities to hone her skills and knowledge.

She first took up a scholarship to study physiotherapy in London after her A levels. Seven years later, while a practising physiotherapist at SGH, a member of the SingHealth Group, she decided to do a master’s degree in neurological physiotherapy in Australia. She continued pursuing a doctorate in clinical physiotherapy at the same university on another scholarship.

She says: “There’s a wide range of clinical specialties to pursue, depending on your interest, and physiotherapists can potentially go far in any one of them.”

Practising physiotherapists here can also hone their skills through courses, including advanced certification courses, conducted by the SGH Postgraduate Allied Health Institute. This continual pursuit of knowledge means better care for patients as physiotherapists keep up with the latest developments in their field.


Opportunities for research

Dr Tan works with patients with neurological disorders, such as stroke and Parkinson’s disease. These patients need rehabilitation to improve their mobility. She teaches customised exercises to patients suffering from dizziness or who have balance problems (resulting from inner ear disorders).

In addition, she is involved in research and education. “Research intrigues me, while I enjoy interacting with patients and their families in clinical work. I feel satisfied when I see them recover and go back to normal activities, and when they learn to manage the condition themselves.”

She is currently part of a team, involving neurologists at SGH and the National Stroke Research Institute in Australia, which is conducting an international trial to find out if early and intensive rehabilitation of post-stroke patients reduces their disability and improves their quality of life in the short and long term.

Says Dr Tan, who also mentors other physiotherapists and teaches advanced certificate courses in physiotherapy: “Research has shown that stroke patients spend a lot of time lying in bed and not engaging in activities that can contribute to their recovery. But bed rest has many negative effects including pulmonary complications and reduced endurance.”


Improving patient care

Dr Tan has actively strived to improve patient care. She helped set up a multidisciplinary vertigo clinic at the Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT) Centre, where patients with dizziness and inner ear disorders have early access to physiotherapy.

She also initiated monthly meetings between members of the multidisciplinary team — neurologists, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and medical social workers — to improve communication and collaboration within the team.

To excel as a physiotherapist, Dr Tan says one needs dedication, patience and the motivation to want to do one’s best for patients. That is why she cherishes the Courage Fund Health Care Humanity Award, which she received in 2006.

She says: “It’s what the award stands for. It recognises health-care workers for their courage, dedication, compassion and humanity. It’s important to not just treat our work as a job, but to be committed to improving patient outcomes.”


Article contributed by the SingHealth Group. It first appeared in Singapore Health, a publication by SingHealth and SGH aimed at advancing health literacy in Singapore.  For more information about a career as a physiotherapist, visit www.singhealth.com.sg/careers