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Virtual occupational therapy helps her reach more patients in pandemic times


Ms Cody Chew, 22, is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Occupational Therapy (OT) at the University of Queensland, a course which requires her to go for onsite fieldwork at hospitals and schools.

Things were thrown into disarray when the pandemic struck and she could no longer go for her fieldwork. Thanks to the advancements in technology, she was able to carry out simulations online instead.

This experience stood her in good stead when, in her second semester, she was asked to conduct telehealth sessions with children living in rural parts of Australia. “Looking back, the online simulation actually helped me to become aware of many possibilities and that OT can actually be done remotely,” she says.

The heart to volunteer

Ms Chew wants to make a difference to society and often seeks out volunteering opportunities to help improve the lives of others. Her personal and volunteering experiences also solidified her decision to pursue a career in the community care sector.

She recalls a particular incident involving a girl who has a developmental disability and struggled with basic tasks such as toileting. This caused the child to miss out on important academic activities and severely impacted her confidence. Ms Chew’s experience working with the girl motivated her to study OT in order to help people of all ages achieve their goals and integrate meaningfully into the community.

“I enjoy the idea of being able to go on journeys with different clients, and helping them to regain their ability to do what they need and love to do. During my volunteer work, through observations and conversations with others, I was able to better understand what OT is about and how it can have a significant impact on the patient’s confidence and well-being,” she says.

To gain more exposure to the field, Ms Chew took a gap year before university to volunteer at the National University Hospital (NUH), where she had the eye-opening experience of job shadowing an occupational therapist. Apart from her job shadowing stint, she also volunteered at the Rainbow Centre during her gap year where she learnt to interact with children who had special needs. These experiences made her realise that OT can help people at different stages of life.

Crisis turned into opportunity 

Ms Chew was awarded the MOH Holdings’ Community Care Scholarship to pursue her degree studies at the University of Queensland, Australia, and she credits her scholarship for providing opportunities for real-world exposure. It gave her the chance, for example, to do a clinical attachment at social service agency AWWA, where she was able to pick up new skills and better understand the social service sector. Upon graduation this year, Ms Chew will be returning to Singapore to serve her scholarship bond with AWWA.

While OT is not usually associated with frontline work, Ms Chew believes that occupational therapists play an important role to the well-being of clients amid the pandemic. This is because the pandemic may have affected the way some patients carry out their daily routines, and an occupational therapist can help by introducing alternative ways of performing these routines.

If there is one thing the pandemic has taught her, it is learning how to be more creative with resources by utilising technology. For instance, teaching the elderly to use video call apps so that they can join virtual tai chi classes, or conducting telerehab sessions, instead of in-person consultations.

Granted, the work of an occupational therapist can be tough and Ms Chew admits that it is easy to give up if you do not possess the right drive. For her, she is motivated to persevere in her studies, knowing that she will be able to use her skills and knowledge to help others in future.

“I see the knowledge learnt as purposeful,” says Ms Chew. “This makes me excited to keep going, knowing that there’s a meaning behind what I am doing.”

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