Little things that count

MS AMELIA Tan was inspired to be an occupational therapist when she saw how occupational therapy improved the quality of life of her younger sister, who has a developmental disability.

“I love that occupational therapists help people perform the activities they need or want to do in daily life, such as brushing their teeth, feeding themselves or writing — activities we so often take for granted,” she says.

Through scholarship fairs and BrightSparks, an information portal on scholarships, Ms Tan discovered the Healthcare Merit Scholarship (formerly the MOHH Health Science Scholarship) and submitted her application online.

After she cleared a scholarship interview, she was offered the chance to fulfil her aspiration.

“The scholarship allowed me to explore studying occupational therapy in Australia, which has some of the world’s leading institutions for undergraduate occupational therapy degrees,” says Ms Tan, who pursued her studies at The University of Queensland (UQ) in Brisbane.

Overseas experience

The 26-year-old reaped many benefits from her four-year studies at UQ, where she received a strong theoretical understanding and practical knowledge of occupational therapy.

Various fieldwork opportunities honed her knowledge and skills in different practice settings such as acute hospitals, community health outreach centres, private paediatric clinics and schools.

Research-based programmes were also available.

As her tuition fees were fully sponsored by the scholarship that also included a monthly allowance, Ms Tan did not have to work part-time, unlike some of her Australian friends.

The scholarship, which came with a six-year bond, also covered her return economy airfare, as well as allowance for a laptop, books and warm clothing.

A meaningful career

After graduating with a Bachelor of Occupational Therapy with First Class Honours in 2014, Ms Tan joined Jurong Community Hospital as an occupational therapist.

As the patients have often lost their functional abilities after an injury or disability, she helps them to re-engage their preferred activities at therapy sessions and train their family caregivers to assist them.

“The role of occupational therapists is to help patients return to their daily activities, either by rehabilitating their function, or by modifying the activity or contexts in which these activities are performed,” she explains.

Being with her patients throughout their journey of recovery is meaningful.

“When we witness their return to their homes, workplaces and the community, the deep-seated fulfilment that we feel is indescribable,” she adds.

Fatigue, both physical and emotional, is part and parcel of the job, but Ms Tan notes that more patience and empathy is needed, especially when managing difficult patients.

“It’s the day-to-day little things that count the most — the tight clasping of my hands as a patient expresses her sincere thanks for my care; a handwritten note from someone who has difficulty writing; and the bright smiles and enthusiastic waves from some patients when I walk past them in the ward,” she says.

Knowledge quest

Given the opportunity, Ms Tan says she would love to be more involved in training and development, or quality improvement projects.

Hence, she has been reading up for self-improvement and trying to identify relevant courses to attend.

She is keen to pursue a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Australia, possibly within the next two years, subject to the necessary approvals by internal departments and MOHH.

“I’ve always been pretty interested in research. The value of good quality research benefits a much wider population compared to one-to-one clinical care.”

“Having a PhD will allow me to have a more varied portfolio, possibly of clinical work, research and teaching,” she says.