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Listening is part of healing: How physio puts patients’ comfort and trust first
His role as a physiotherapist at Tan Tock Seng Hospital has taught Mr Darren Lim to actively listen to his patients while addressing their individual needs. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA

This SIT scholar believes that caring for patients first starts with compassion and understanding, not just mere assertion of knowledge

Upon meeting a new patient, physiotherapist Mr Darren Lim must tackle the little voice in his head that whispers: “What if you cannot heal this person?” 

The voice gets louder if the patient is fearful or unwilling to undergo physiotherapy.

“One patient who had a stroke would start crying and shaking whenever I approached her with my physiotherapy equipment, due to her anxiety towards medical staff and equipment,” he recounts. “Her blood pressure would also shoot up.”

In such tense situations, Mr Lim would pause to give his patients more time to express their concerns before gradually acclimatising them to the treatment. 

“With this patient, I hid my equipment before I approached her,” he says. “After a while, she got more comfortable with my presence. That was when I could bring out the walking frame for her to use.”

Slowly but surely, this approach has helped him rehabilitate many patients and restore them to good health at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.  By actively listening to his patients, he creates a supportive and reassuring environment that ensures they are heard, respected and cared for.

These people-centric skills were developed during his studies at the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT). Under the SIT Scholarship, he graduated from the physiotherapy degree programme in May 2023.

Since graduation, he has continued to stay in touch with fellow physiotherapists from his university via an “SOS” WhatsApp group.

A diverse community of scholars

“I applied for the bond-free SIT Scholarship with the intention of expanding my network and pushing myself beyond my comfort zone,” says the 25-year-old Nanyang Junior College alumnus. 

“I was also drawn to the prospect of joining a community of like-minded individuals. The scholarship gave me opportunities to network with peers, attend workshops and take on leadership roles. All these experiences broadened my horizons and helped me grow as a person.”

At SIT, he was struck by the exuberant energy of the scholars. 

“One of them set up the SIT diving club so he could share his passion with fellow students. Another went to intern at the MasterChef USA kitchen,” he marvels. 

By observing the diverse interests within the network of SIT scholars, Mr Lim learnt that everyone has to find his or her own way to succeed in life. 

“During our SIT Scholars’ Camp, I realised everyone has something exciting that they are doing; there is no objective or the best way to lead life. I learnt to listen to how they did it, and that helped to make me more open-minded,” he says.

Multiplying power of teams

Through the clinical practice education he received at SIT, which is part of the university’s curriculum, Mr Lim was also exposed to a variety of healthcare settings.

In the span of a year, he was deployed to five different healthcare institutions for his clinical placements: Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, Ng Teng Fong Hospital, Bukit Batok Polyclinic and an NTUC Health nursing home. 

“It gave me various opprtunities to network with peers, attend workshops and take on leadership roles.”

Mr Darren Lim, recipient of the SIT Scholarship

Mr Lim also discovered the multiplying power of working together. The physiotherapist-peers in his “SOS” WhatsApp group often share their experiences dealing with difficult situations and their workaround solutions. Mr Lim would consult the group occasionally, asking questions before his patient sessions.

“The strongest team is one that has people who can bring different things to the table, rather than a one-dimensional team where everyone has the same strengths,” he notes. “The more diverse the skills we have, the more powerful the team can be.”

During his school days, amidst the pandemic, he was also part of a group of physiotherapy students who took turns helping each other over online sessions to quiz each other on their subject knowledge before tests and exams. 

The presence of supportive friends helped him to stay positive and resilient during that period of isolation.

Leading from behind  

Mr Lim also realised that while scholars should embody the positive values of SIT, they need not conform to the stereotype of being the most prominent person in the room, as everyone possesses their own unique and special qualities. 

“Although I have to embody certain values as an ambassador of the university – such as excelling in whatever you do – I learnt that you don’t have to lead from the front; you can also lead from the back,” he says. 

“In this way, I became a better listener and more empathetic to others.” 

He applied these lessons in his work, like with a workaholic patient, with whom he emphasised listening instead of simply chastising. 

Mr Lim sat down with her and took the time to understand why she felt she could not let go of her volunteer work, before gently coaxing her to reduce her workload and convincing her to prioritise her health while pursuing her work objectives.

“A leader does not have to be all-assertive, but one who works with you on your specific needs,” he explains. “I brought this ethos to my workplace and interactions with my patients, where I will take time to listen to everyone.

“When people feel heard, they will open up so I can help to heal them.” 

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