Moving and Improving Lives, Literally

Improving the quality of their patients’ lives – That’s the purpose that all allied health professionals work towards. We talk to one Health Science scholar who tells all.

By Farhan Shah

“When I was in university, I was extremely busy and had no time to exercise!” 23-year-old Tong Shuk In laughs heartily, explaining the reasons behind the weight that she gained while she was in school a few years back.

The additional weight that she put on is now consigned to the annals of history; the Physiotherapist sitting in front of us is the epitome of fitness. She regularly runs with her colleagues and even finished in the top 10 in her organisation’s annual cross country run.

Looking trimmed and toned in her white coat, Shuk In regales us with tales from the hospital, explains her reasons for becoming a Physiotherapist, and reveals a world that’s not just made up of sanitised hallways and men in white coats, but one that is a mix of compassion, gratitude and hope.

Tell us why you decided to be a physiotherapist.
Shuk In: There were two incidents that led me to this path. The first incident happened when I was 9 years old. My grandmother suffered a stroke and was sent to hospital. At that time, I didn’t understand what was going on; all I knew was that the atmosphere was very sad and gloomy. During one of our visits to the hospital, a healthcare professional told us that my grandmother would be alright. I remembered looking at my mom, who was quite emotionally affected by the whole incident, when the healthcare professional told us that, and seeing how relieved she was. That made me realise the impact that we as healthcare professionals have on people.

The second incident that steered me to the path of physiotherapy happened when I was 17, during my first year of JC. During softball training, I hurt my elbow badly. At that time, it was a crucial period because the tryouts to be part of the main team were approaching and I really wanted to be in it. The doctor gave me painkillers for the pain but I couldn’t perform at the same level that I used to. My coach suggested that I see a physiotherapist, who not only treated my pain but improved my quality of life and helped me regain the strength in my arm. Her empathetic and polite nature as well as her willingness to go the extra mile really made a huge impact on me; that was when I decided to be a physiotherapist.

How have the two years in NUH been like?
Shuk In: It’s been a really fulfilling and meaningful two years and I’ve grown so much. I must credit the cohesive working environment here too; all my colleagues are extremely supportive. We help each other out when the workload gets a bit too much to handle. They’re also partly the reason why I’ve become healthier! (Laughs) It’s easier to keep healthy if you run in a big group as opposed to running alone.

I would like to highlight one of my seniors in the department who doesn’t hesitate to lend a helping hand every time we’re facing a problem. He’s never one to shy away from a problem and is always read to help, either physically or by giving advice gleaned from his extensive years of experience.

So, what has been the most memorable episode in the two years you’ve been in NUH?
Shuk In: The patients whom I’ll always remember would be these two brothers who were suffering from Duchenne muscular dystrophy (Ed’s note: DMD is a hereditary disorder that causes muscles to rapidly weaken over time). One of them also suffered from an excessive amount of phlegm. One day, the nurses urgently called for me because the patient was choking on his own phlegm as his chest muscles were too weak to expel the mucus. I rushed up to the ward to perform chest physiotherapy for him. Even though this young boy was gasping for breath and attempting to cough out the phlegm, he still apologised to me for making me rush to him. It was so sweet of him.

When the two brothers were discharged, their father gave me two books, illustrated and written by the boys, as a display his gratitude. I remembered flipping through the books after my shift and started crying. Even though these two brothers were not as fortunate as me, they could still draw beautiful images which I can’t. Whenever I look at these books, I feel inspired.

Sounds like a really depressing job.
Shuk In: It’s not a depressing job at all! I’ve realised the tenacity of the human spirit through this job. I’ve become wiser and also learned to communicate effectively with people from all walks of life. After all, I need to motivate my patients to exercise and be healthy.

What other fields can a physiotherapist venture into?
Shuk In: Loads actually. A close friend of mine, who is also a physiotherapist, recently suffered a knee injury. Now, she’s considering a course that will set her on the path to becoming a speech therapist. I also know of a number of people who went on to do health promotion and I’ve heard of physiotherapists who are now working with the circus and oil companies! There are definitely a lot of areas you can explore.

Sell a career in physiotherapy to me.
Shuk In: As a physiotherapist, you’re in a position where you can help rebuild patients’ lives. It’s a truly dynamic and ever-changing profession and if you’re the type that gets easily bored, then this is the profession for you. (Laughs) You’ll be working together as a team and towards the same goal, to improve the quality of life of your patients.

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