A fractured wrist led Mr Patrick Ker to his eventual career in occupational therapy. While serving his national service, he injured himself and had to undergo surgery and rehabilitation with an occupational therapist.

Then, he did not have a clue what occupational therapy was, even doubting his need for such treatment. Nevertheless, he attended the occupational therapy sessions and began to understand more about the field of treatment.

He was impressed by the occupational therapist’s patience and care in helping him regain the strength of his hand. This ignited his interest, and he began to seriously consider occupational therapy as a career for himself.

Mr Ker found out that Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP) was offering an occupational therapy course about the same time that he would be completing his national service, so he sent in an application and also applied for a sponsorship by the Singapore General Hospital (SGH), one of the institutions under the SingHealth Group. To his delight, he was accepted for a place in the course and was awarded the sponsorship too.

During his fieldwork placements, he gained experience in some of the main areas of occupational therapy practice, such as physical rehabilitation, paediatrics and mental health therapy.

SGH also sponsored him to pursue a degree in occupational therapy at the University of Sydney in 1996, after he graduated from NYP in 1995.

Upon his return from Sydney, Mr Ker and a colleague started providing ergonomic services at SGH, such as consultancy for companies to educate them on how to improve their work environments and ensure they are conducive for staff’s wellbeing. When work-related injuries were sustained, they also provided treatment and advised companies on how these injuries could be prevented. 

Later, he obtained a master’s degree from the University of New South Wales, Australia, in 2004.

He now focuses on ergonomics, providing training and consultancy to companies. He conducts talks for employees to create awareness and also workshops to explain common workplace ergonomics issues and how to tackle them.

What it takes

Sharing the three most important qualities that he learnt and is still cultivating, Mr Ker says: “The first is patience. Occupational therapists have to work with people from all walks of life, with all sorts of personalities.

“To be effective, you need to have patience to remain encouraging and positive with patients who experience setbacks and frustration, and not get discouraged when the process takes time.”

The second, he says, is adaptability. “Each person, situation and work environment that occupational therapists encounter is different, which means that they will need to adapt quickly to changes. Just as we adapt a patient’s activities or living environment to fit his unique individual needs, we also need to be able to provide clients with customised care that meets their needs.”

The third thing is creativity. He says: “Occupational therapists need to be able to assess and come up with creative strategies to help patients build their skills and overcome a wide range of challenges.”

Mr Ker says his 15-year career as an occupational therapist has been rewarding. It is a fulfilling vocation that gives him the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of patients and clients who are striving to overcome challenges to live independent, meaningful lives.