“AS IN a pilot’s job, attention to detail is critical. Ever so often, the smallest detail could be the difference between life and death,” says Mr Matthew Tan of his work as a respiratory therapist at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth Group.

A respiratory therapist is an expert in respiratory care technology and is responsible for providing basic and advanced respiratory care services to patients with deficiencies and abnormalities in the cardio-pulmonary system.

Change of ambition

Mr Tan’s childhood ambition was to be a policeman, but his parents were worried about the element of danger in the life of a law enforcer.

So when his mother chanced upon a Respiratory Therapy scholarship offered by SGH, she urged him to apply for it. 

Mr Tan, who was then weighing his options for university, read up on the profession and decided that it was something he could consider as a career.

“I was looking for a job that was not office-bound, which allowed me to help others and would keep my adrenaline high.

“‘Respiratory therapist’ sounded just like it,” he explains.

He was awarded the scholarship by SGH and went on to study respiratory care with a clinical specialisation in adult critical care at the University of Texas Health Science Centre.

That marked the beginning of his career in public health care.

Lung and breathing expert

Besides managing patients with respiratory disorders, Mr Tan also works in the intensive care unit (ICU), where he handles ventilators, assesses lung and breathing capacity, and manages airway flow and breathing equipment. 

Like many health-care professionals, respiratory therapists are a critical part of a multi-disciplinary team that includes doctors, nurses and other allied health professionals working together to provide quality, patient-centric care.

Mr Tan recalls a patient who was critically ill and had to be hospitalised for a significant period of time.

Through the efforts of the entire team of professionals, his condition improved and was eventually well enough to return home.

“It was the remarkable combination of skills and expertise that made a difference. No words can describe the immense satisfaction I had in seeing him recover day by day,” says the committed therapist, who knows how much it means to a patient and his family to be well enough to go home. 

There are also patients who continue to require breathing apparatus after their discharge. Mr Tan educates them and their family members on managing and using their equipment.

Training and research

Because breathing is integral to life, patients with respiratory disorders can be very sick.

Besides being well-versed in the vast areas of respiratory care, it is also essential for respiratory therapists to be aware of the latest technologies and developments to provide patients with the best care possible.

Apart from reading journals and articles to keep up-to-date, Mr Tan and his colleagues belong to a journal club, where they share and learn from one another.

He is also a professional member of the American Association of Respiratory Care (AARC), a non-profit association that keeps policymakers and its members informed of issues crucial to patient care and respiratory practice.

Research is another area that Mr Tan has a strong interest in.

He says: “Research opens the doors to new treatment opportunities that can lead to better patient outcomes.”

In a recent research project, he evaluated the different modes of humidification and later presented his findings at the Asian Pacific Society of Respirology Congress 2012 in Hong Kong.

He is currently working on another project that investigates the effectiveness of a catheter with respect to bronchoscopy.

Says Mr Tan: “Being part of the largest academic health-care cluster in Singapore means I’m always learning new technologies and techniques of evidence-based practices that will improve patient care and outcomes.

“I hope to inspire more talented individuals to join this profession.”

Article contributed by the SingHealth Group. For more information about a health-care career with SingHealth, visit www.singhealth.com.sg/careers