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Finding her footing

DURING her second year of biological sciences studies at the Nanyang Technological University, Ms Acacia Neo Jia Wei learnt that one of her friends had received a scholarship award. While mulling over whether she should apply for a Health Science & Nursing Scholarship offered by MOH Holdings (MOHH), she came to know about podiatry. She had no idea what the field was about, so she did a search online. She was immediately hooked. Says Ms Neo, 28: “I knew I wanted to do something related to healthcare, and that I wanted to be equipped with a special skill set. Podiatry appealed to me as I did not know what it was about at the time. “Not many people pay attention to their feet until there is a problem. Growing up, we are told to eat healthily and exercise regularly, but we are not often told to protect our feet by wearing proper shoes.” She is determined to change that.

Strong will

Ms Neo breezed through the scholarship interview process. “The scholarship interviewers were friendly. Most of their questions revolved around why I chose podiatry. “All I had to do was show the panel that I was sincere and passionate about pursuing a career in podiatry,” she recalls. Ms Neo was awarded the scholarship in 2010, after which she left for Brisbane, Australia to pursue podiatry studies at the Queensland University of Technology. The scholarship covered tuition fees, living allowances, a settling-in fee and miscellaneous expenses, as well as funding for extra-curricular activities such as conferences and relevant courses.

She appreciated the help from the approachable scholarship officers who visited occasionally to mingle with the scholars over a meal. MOHH also took the initiative to organise hospital placements for the scholars during their vacations. “This opportunity provided us with a snippet of our future workplace. As a result, I was able to integrate with my first podiatry team after graduation easily as I knew what to expect. Overall, the scholarship experience was pleasant and we were well taken of,” she says.

Learning to adapt

Although she initially felt apprehensive about studying overseas, she soon settled into life in Brisbane. She got driving lessons from a housemate and even picked up some local Aussie slang. “One of the best things about living overseas in a big country is that you get to travel. Every holiday presents an opportunity to travel and explore new places with your mates”, says Ms Neo, who went on multiple road trips to Tasmania, Victoria, South and Western Australia, as well as New Zealand. She also picked up a life skill or two: “I enjoy cooking and having small groups of friends over for a meal occasionally. After all, food always bonds Singaporeans together.” She enjoyed visiting supermarkets, weekend markets and hipster cafés. “Coffee culture is big in Australia. Everyone grabs a coffee before class and during breaks,” she recalls.

Making strides

Since graduating with a Bachelor of Health Science (Podiatry) (Honours) in 2014, Ms Neo has been working with the podiatry department at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital. “I am still trying to be a podiatrist who is knowledgeable, kind, committed and empathetic towards my patients,” says Ms Neo. “I hope to extend the scope of podiatry towards primary healthcare in the near future by educating and empowering the public to care for their feet — especially those who are diabetic,” she adds. According to Ms Neo, the Ms Acacia Neo Jia Wei’s keen interest in podiatry helped her to clinch a Health Science & Nursing Scholarship from MOHH public is not very aware of podiatry as the field is “relatively new compared to occupational therapy and physiotherapy”. She encourages aspiring podiatrists to consider taking the scholarship route: “Just do it. You will be learning what you are interested in. Free education, the chance to travel, a stipend and a guaranteed job is just the icing on the cake,” she adds.