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Stretching the boundaries

ALTHOUGH she once entertained thoughts of being an obstetrician or a pilot, Ms Mok Ying Ming eventually decided to be a physiotherapist. She did not think she would opt for a job that was more sedentary in nature. But after she joined the basketball team at Hwa Chong Institution, she observed how physiotherapy assisted in the recovery process of her injured teammates. That was when she started to seriously consider physiotherapy as a career choice. “I saw injured teammates playing without major issues after just a few sessions of physiotherapy,” she recalls. “The transformation was almost magical.” As her interest in physiotherapy grew, she applied for the Healthcare Merit Award, formerly known as the Health Science Nursing Scholarship, in 2010. Her strong passion for the field, stellar academic performance and natural charisma helped her to clinch the scholarship award.

Four years later, Ms Mok graduated with a Bachelor of Physiotherapy from the University of Queensland, Australia. After which, she joined KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) as a physiotherapist. Looking back, the 27-year-old appreciates the benefits of the scholarship that have shaped and supported her career. Says Ms Mok: “The scholarship enabled me to obtain a worldclass education overseas without financial stress. “It also gave me the opportunity to meet people, some of whom I now consider my best friends.” Most importantly, making physiotherapy her career has enabled her to make a difference in people’s lives. As an athlete herself, she gets an immense sense of satisfaction to see her patients get on the road to recovery, whether they are nine years old or 90. “There is no greater satisfaction than watching people resume their favourite hobbies and activities free of pain,” she adds.

Not just for sportsmen

Ms Mok wants to clear the misconception that physiotherapy is purely about rehabilitating injured sportsmen. In fact, some of her most memorable encounters have been with non-athletic patients. For instance, during her sixmonth job rotation in KKH’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), she helped premature infants clear the build-up of secretion in their lungs by using a combination of gentle clapping on their backs, sending vibrations to their chest walls and suctioning the mucus away. She also observed how trained therapists could help developmentally challenged infants learn to self-regulate their motor and autonomic systems. Having witnessed how the little ones battled their ailments with their incredible will to survive, she realised the importance of physiotherapy as a means to save lives.

Beyond physical care

One challenging aspect of Ms Mok’s job is developing the interpersonal skills to address a patient’s emotional and psychosocial needs. “Our line of work goes beyond equipping our patients with the necessary movement strategies to manage their pain,” she says. Ms Mok recalls an Italian patient who, despite suffering from cardiac failure and other complications, tried her best to get out of bed and walk short distances with assistance. It was a huge effort as she was struggling to breathe, even with oxygen. Even though there was a language barrier between the two, they soon learnt to communicate using sign language and simple phrases in Italian and English. “This helped me to attend to her physical needs better, and encourage her when she was depressed about her diagnosis or current condition,” she says. The episode is one of many that taught her to listen with patience and develop greater empathy. Above all, Ms Mok believes that her experience has helped her to adopt a mindset that focuses on constant growth, and puts the well-being of others first. “It gives me a great sense of fulfilment when I can encourage patients or their caregivers to find the personal motivation to get better,” she says.