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Helping patients live life fully: Aspiring occupational therapist's mission
AIC Community Care scholar Low Hsien Loong
Through occupational therapy, Mr Low Hsien Loong hopes to help his patients live their lives to the fullest. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA

A stint at an outpatient occupational therapy ward led this Community Care scholar to find his purpose in helping patients in their recovery journey and reintegration into society

Scooping rice may seem like a simple task, but for one of Mr Low Hsien Loong’s patients, this posed a formidable challenge.

The patient was undergoing rehabilitation at St Luke’s ElderCare where Mr Low was doing a seven-week clinical attachment. A stroke had impaired her ability to perform fine motor movements, making it difficult to execute tasks that involve precision and coordination.

Guiding her through her recovery journey in late 2023, Mr Low was moved by her perseverance in carrying out the exercises, which involved simple activities such as taking a water bottle from a table while seated on a chair and using a damp cloth to wipe a window in up-and-down motions.

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Her story – and those of other patients – reinforced his conviction that he has picked the right career path.

Currently in his final year pursuing a Bachelor of Science with Honours in Occupational Therapy at the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), he was awarded the Community Care Scholarship (Mid-Term).

“A simple task that many take for granted has such a significant value to the patient,” says the 25-year-old. “Seeing her make progress day by day was really rewarding and inspires me to help those who are struggling to regain their independence.”

After he graduates in September 2024, he will serve his four-year bond at Ren Ci Community Hospital where he will be working with patients with varying medical conditions – including orthopaedic injuries, dementia and stroke – to help them improve physical strength and regain independence in daily living.

Customised care and support

After he graduated from polytechnic, he explored a range of jobs in the healthcare sector and came across a quote about occupational therapy – “Living life to its fullest despite difficulties in doing so”.

“I felt a connection with that quote – about wanting to bring out the best in people,” says Mr Low.

“A simple task that many take for granted has such a significant value to the patient… Seeing her make progress day by day was really rewarding and inspires me to help others who are struggling to regain their independence.”

– Mr Low Hsien Loong, recipient of the Community Care Scholarship (Mid-Term)

To better understand the role of an occupational therapist, he took up a six-month patient service associate job at the outpatient Occupational Therapy Clinic at Tan Tock Seng Hospital in 2018.

There, he saw first-hand how occupational therapists support patients through customised care programmes based on each patient’s lifestyle and living environment.

Like physical therapy, occupational therapy is a type of rehabilitative care, although the focus is on helping people perform their everyday routines more easily – despite physical limitations caused by ageing bodies, an injury, a disorder or an illness.

For example, to help those experiencing carpal tunnel syndrome, occupational therapists would prescribe custom splints and recommend workspace adjustments that enable those with desk-bound jobs to continue working at the computer.

A physiotherapist, on the other hand, would recommend exercises or other physical activities to improve one’s mobility, strength and function.

Growing demand for rehabilitative care

Singapore’s population is ageing rapidly. When the proportion of individuals aged 65 years and older reaches about 21 per cent, a country is considered super-aged – a status Singapore will reach in 2026.

By 2030, one in four residents will be aged 65 years and above.

To support Singapore’s vision of enabling our seniors to maintain quality of life and independence in their silver years, a strong network of community care professionals is needed.

Occupational therapists like Mr Low Hsien Loong will play an integral role in providing rehabilitative care and developing customised care plans to help seniors lead healthier and more fulfilling lives.

Broadening his understanding

Mr Low learnt about the Community Care Scholarship and applied for it during his first year at SIT.

The Community Care Scholarship was launched by MOH Holdings, in partnership with the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC), to build up the talent pool in community care. It covers four fields of study: occupational therapy, physiotherapy, speech therapy and medical social work.

Mr Low (left, with his classmates) got interested in occupational therapy after a stint at TTSH where he saw how occupational therapists help patients recover through customised care. PHOTO: COURTESY OF LOW HSIEN LOONG

Since its inception in 2020, 48 Community Care Scholarships have been awarded.

As Singapore responds to the needs of an ageing population, there will be a growing demand not just for nurses and doctors but also allied health professionals such as occupational therapists, physiotherapists and medical social workers.

Since his first year at university, Mr Low has been through five clinical attachments.

Each clinical rotation has allowed him to apply his knowledge while broadening his understanding of how occupational therapy influences a person’s recovery.

During each stint, he would try to identify activities or routines that uplift the spirit of his patients while drawing up tailored therapies to motivate them. It could mean incorporating music, crafts or other hobbies they enjoy into their customised treatment plans.

When working with a stroke patient who was unresponsive to the standard occupational therapy exercises, Mr Low took time to discover the individual’s fondness for fishing. He then integrated targeted fishing movements into the patient’s exercises to motivate him.

With another stroke patient who did not respond to hand signs and pictures, he explored a different method outside of conventional occupational therapy and made use of an app that was designed to help autistic clients communicate.

His method worked. Through the app, the patient was able to communicate his feelings using an iPad.

These experiences taught Mr Low there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to connecting with and helping patients in their recovery.

“Community care lets us connect with patients, support them along their health journey and facilitate their reintegration into society, regardless of injury or disease,” he says.

The difference between occupational therapists and physiotherapists

Both play a vital role in helping patients recover and improve their quality of life. However, there are key differences between the two:

Occupational therapistPhysiotherapist
Helps individuals perform daily activities independentlyFocuses on improving physical movement and function
Uses a variety of interventions such as adaptive equipment, cognitive rehabilitation and therapeutic activitiesEmploys manual therapy techniques and exercises to regain strength, mobility function and range of motion
Considers one’s holistic well-being, including mental health and living environmentConcentrates on physical aspects of healing
Aims to improve one’s independence in everyday routinesAims to enhance one’s physical mobility and reduce pain
About the Community Care Scholarship

The Community Care Scholarship, offered by MOH Holdings in partnership with the Agency for Integrated Care, covers courses in the following healthcare disciplines: physiotherapy, occupational therapy, medical social work and speech therapy.

This article is brought to you by the Agency for Integrated Care.

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