Thursday, January 28, 2021

Young & Inspired: Why I Became an Occupational Therapist

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“You should go to the hospital to work as it is more stable and there is better job progression.”

“You should work in the hospital setting first to know more medical conditions before you head to the Community Care sector.”

Those are just a few of the reactions Koh Wee Xin got from her friends and family when she told them she would be starting her career as an Occupational Therapist (OT) in the Community Care sector.

She said, “I personally find the reasons unfounded as being in the community sector is a whole new realm altogether and the skillset needed is very different.”

Wee Xin joined TOUCH Community Services in July 2016 after graduating from Singapore Institute of Technology, where she received First Class Honors in Bachelor of Science (Occupational Therapy). Prior to that, she majored in Occupational Therapy in Nanyang Polytechnic.

Now, almost five years into the job, the 27-year-old wears many hats: that of a therapist, a case officer and a friend — all at once.

She says, “Being in this sector has taught me to have a grateful heart and to appreciate the smaller things in life. It has been a humbling experience to witness my clients’ resilience despite their vulnerabilities in life and I take it as new learnings for me daily.”

Read on to find out more about her journey as an OT.

Who or what inspired you to choose Occupational Therapy in school?

Like many, I was confused about what I wanted to do after my A-level exams. However, I knew I wanted to work in the social sector to help people in need. My junior college classmate introduced me to the field of Occupational Therapy back then and shared with me how it is a creative profession that enables people to perform meaningful activities for their health and well-being. At that time, I didn’t know what to expect out of it so I just took the leap of faith to pursue this profession. It’s safe to say that I’ve never looked back since!

Why did you choose to pursue Occupational Therapy as a career?

I chose OT because it’s not a cookie-cutter job and the scope of our work is extremely diverse. Every individual is unique, and so is the way we do or perform our work. I get to be creative and think out of the box to find different strategies to enable my clients to meet their therapy goal, and optimise their function and quality of life.

Wee Xin helping a senior to leave his house. (Photo was taken before safe-distancing measures due to Covid-19 were implemented.

Why did you want to join the Community Care sector? Did you consider joining other sectors e.g. acute care?

While I had been to several clinical placements in acute settings, I always felt that something was missing for me as I could not spend much time connecting with patients.

In Community Care, I really enjoy being able to journey with my clients, especially when you see them successfully integrate into the community. Plus, I feel that the Community Care sector has really helped me to provide holistic care for my patients. Being in their homes, you get to be aware of their physical environment, social circumstances and understand the struggles faced by both clients and caregivers. I am often the therapist, case officer, and even friend for patients and caregivers!

What advice do you have for people who are just starting their career journey?

I live by this quote: “Hustle and heart will set you apart.”

It is a privilege to be able to help others. But remember that in order to be able to make the difference, you must first decide what kind of difference you want to make. Be open to learn and hustle. With the right attitude and mindset, you can definitely set things right!

What was your most memorable client experience?

Once, I had the opportunity to work with a pair of siblings in their 50s who were born with cerebral palsy. They are both wheelchair users who have speech impairment.  They live in a three-room flat left by their late parents. Participating in normal Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) such as eating or moving around was no easy feat for them.

Initially, I thought it’d be best if they could be admitted to a nursing home as they have high care needs. However, after several conversations with them, I found out that the house holds precious memories as it belonged to their late parents. Hence, I came to understand that any changes to [their living arrangements] could be devastating for the twins.

With this newly gained understanding of the situation, I worked around the constraints to facilitate their independence while maintaining the integrity of their home. This included acquiring a feeding aid, prescribing a motorised wheelchair, and becoming acquainted with their neighbours so they could keep a lookout for them.

The journey with them was a very long process, but it was indeed fulfilling.

What is the biggest misconception people have about OT?

Many people assume that we are in the business of helping people find work. Sometimes, they think we are the same as physiotherapists! In fact, occupation essentially means activities. This means we work with people to enable them to perform activities that fulfil their own goals and lifestyles.

Wee Xin guiding a senior out of his bathroom. (Photo was taken before safe-distancing measures due to Covid-19 were implemented.

What is the most fulfilling aspect of being an OT?

Being able to make a difference to other people’s lives — that’s what is most fulfilling for me. It is an honour to be able to help others and to witness the growth or progress of my clients from being homebound to regaining their independence. Moreover, seeing their quality of life and relationships with their loved ones improve is something that I gain immense job satisfaction from!

Want to join the Community Care sector? Click here for career opportunities.

Photos: TOUCH Community Services

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