SPURRED by a common desire to make a positive difference to people’s lives, Ms Sophia Cheah Chen Hui and Ms Eunice Chua both decided to join Singapore General Hospital (SGH) as allied health professionals.

Ms Cheah, 26, a physiotherapist, and Ms Chua, 24, an occupational therapist (OT), find it fulfilling to help improve their patients’ conditions, and welcome the challenges and varied experiences that each day brings.

Both women obtained sponsorships from SGH, which included a monthly allowance, for their respective diploma courses at Nanyang Polytechnic and their subsequent degree upgrades.

Ms Cheah knew early on that she did not want a desk-bound job. “Physiotherapy empowers me with the opportunity to make someone walk again,” she says. The most rewarding aspect is “the satisfaction of seeing a patient move pain-free and independently when it was not possible a few sessions before”.

Dispelling a common misconception that physiotherapists only do massages, Ms Cheah says it is just one of the many treatments they provide.

She explains: “Physiotherapists assess a patient from various aspects: musculoskeletal, cardiopulmonary and neurological generally. We educate them on exercise and prevention, and encourage physical activity and a healthy lifestyle to aid a return to normal function as much as possible.”

In a hospital setting, physiotherapists work together with other health care professionals, including OTs, to provide holistic care for patients.

Says Ms Cheah: “Physiotherapists possess the knowledge and skills to make a change in their patients’ lifestyle and function. There are various tracks they can choose to further their professional development. For example, for those in research, their findings may impact how physiotherapists worldwide provide care for patients.”

An 11-month stint Ms Cheah had with SGH’s burns unit turned out to be a great learning experience as she witnessed patients undertakes long and arduous journeys towards recovery. She was inspired by how tenacious the human spirit can be.

She is excited about working with renal transplant patients at SGH’s recently opened transplant centre. Her work will involve prescribing exercises to improve patients’ bone density and prevent obesity to counter the risks of weight gain and osteoporosis from some of the medication that the patients need to take.

Rehabilitating patients

Like physiotherapists, OTs also work with people of all ages, from infants to the elderly. As a child, Ms Chua was already keen on a profession where she could work with and help others. Her interest in the health-care industry was sparked in secondary school when she learnt about basic first aid and nursing skills as a member of the St John Ambulance Brigade.

She works in SGH’s rehabilitation unit, where she sees patients with different conditions such as stroke and brain injuries, and those who need hip replacements.

“I discuss goals with patients and from there, plan and carry out therapy for them to regain their participation in their valued activities.  These activities can range from putting on a shirt to returning to work after their hospitalisation,” Ms Chua says.

Some people mistakenly think that OTs help patients to look for an occupation. OTs are health-care professionals who help people to regain their ability to engage in every single activity of their daily living, such as brushing their teeth, taking public transport, cooking and taking their children to school.

Passion for caring

Both Ms Chua and Ms Cheah cite their passion to care for others as a necessary quality for anyone who wants to enter their fields of expertise. Ms Cheah also extols communication skills and patience, saying the former can be learnt. She picked up dialects along the way and attended conversational Malay courses.

Ms Chua too says that skills and knowledge can be taught in school and on the job. She further stresses the importance of having a positive attitude towards learning and receiving feedback.

The two young women derive such a lot of meaning from their work that they would not hesitate to encourage others to follow in their footsteps.

Ms Cheah urges aspiring physiotherapists to first talk to professionals in the field and seek attachments with hospitals to find out more about the discipline before making up their minds. Such attachments are offered to students by SGH’s Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy departments.

Her job has many challenges, but they do not daunt Ms Chua, who says: “Every day I feel fulfilled by the difference I can make in someone’s life, such as empowering my patient to be able to button his shirt. Learning may be tough at times, but I have the privilege to walk the journey with my patients — to share their ups and downs, and be there to encourage and empower them.

Physiotherapy

Physiotherapists work with a multidisciplinary team of health-care providers to deliver holistic care aligned with patient goals.

They perform assessments to design individualised treatment plans that may incorporate manual therapy, exercises and/or the use of electro-physical modalities to optimise recovery.

Singapore General Hospital is home to the largest physiotherapy department in Singapore, since it was established in 1947.

Occupational therapy

Occupational therapy is a health-care profession concerned with people of all ages whose everyday life has been affected by physical, cognitive and/or mental health problems.

Occupational therapists use purposeful activities and a variety of treatment methods to obtain a desired level of functioning in work, self-care, play and leisure.

Singapore General Hospital’s Occupational Therapy Department has provided rehabilitation services since 1954.


Article contributed by Singapore General Hospital. For more information about SGH sponsorships, visit www.sgh.com.sg/careers