Allied Health – Walking In Your Shoes

The healthcare sector consists of a myriad of possibilities for the health and science enthusiast, from dealing with visible body complications to investigating underlying internal conditions. Find out how a health science scholarship was the golden ticket to a bright future for a young scholar.

By Wendy Ng and Farhan Shah

In a world dominated by headlines of corporate greed and instant gratification, it takes someone special to stand up and decide that there is more to life than money and fame.

Throughout history, there have been a long list of luminaries that have made a difference to the world by lending a helping hand to those in need.

From Florence Nightingale, the celebrated British nurse to Mother Teresa, famed humanitarian, all of them chose to pursue a higher calling in life.

This passion to change the world one individual at a time appealed to the idealist in Natalie Tang and she knew the healthcare industry was the best possible avenue for her to achieve that.

A childhood dream

“A career in the healthcare industry has always been my childhood ambition,” Natalie says.

“This industry is not for those who only want to make big money or be in the limelight. Healthcare is not about the glamour. It is about providing help when there is a need. And there are people who need help so that's what we are here for,” she adds.

The Ministry of Health’s (MOH) Health Science Scholarship provided Natalie with an opportunity to embark on a career she was truly passionate about, and provided her with options to go into policy work, research, or academic pursuits.

There are many branches in the healthcare industry that an aspiring healthcare practitioner can venture into but the one that is set to experience exponential growth in the next couple of years is the allied health sector.

Allied health focuses on providing patient care in therapeutic forms and is an integral component in the healthcare system.

An accidental calling

Natalie initially decided to apply for a scholarship in Physiotherapy but later realised her calling in Podiatry after finding out about it during the scholarship’s interview.

Podiatry is a branch of medicine dedicated to the study, treatment, and diagnosis of foot and leg ailments.

“I found Podiatry to be a unique area of study. It required a lot of hands on experience,” the 23-year-old explains.

Her diverted passion towards the specialisation in Podiatry was affirmed when she found out more about the field during an attachment stint.

New experiences

Having aced the selection process, the ex-Rafflesian was thrown into a whole new environment when she went abroad to the University of Southampton to read Podiatry.

Far from being overwhelmed, Natalie thrived under the pressure and graduated at the top of her class.

Being overseas was quite a rewarding learning experience for Natalie. She believes it has taught her to be more independent and adaptable when interacting with her patients.

“The profession itself is quite humbling because patients put their trust in you,” Natalie says.

Stepping into the role

Upon her return to Singapore, Natalie dived headlong into her role as a Podiatrist at the Singapore General Hospital, which is under the Singapore Health Services (SingHealth) cluster.

Despite being new, Natalie was exposed to a full range of cases, including acute care.
Each day, she sees about 12 to 15 patients at the Diabetes Centre, where she plays her role in palliative and wound care.

She also sees patients at the Rehabilitation Centre for flat feet, heel pain, nail surgery and fungus, among many other complications.

Other times, Natalie visits the wards to attend to a range of cases.

The amount of exposure she receives from these cases can be overwhelming initially to a rookie just entering the doors of a hospital, especially in the field of podiatry.

“We got to see so many problems that we did not get to see in classes. The cases here are more severe. It’s as though we’re fighting little battles every day trying to help patients solve their problems,” Natalie confides.

However, the pay-off at the end is beyond comparison.

“The sense of achievement comes when we manage to ease a pain or heal a wound and we see the relieved faces of the patients,” Natalie beams.

The bigger picture

However, reflecting on the podiatry scene in Singapore, she remarks, “Podiatry is an understated profession. People neglect their feet most of the time despite its importance. They only realise they are in trouble when the pain kicks in.”

Natalie explains that feet problems arise due to many reasons, but two of the most common are diabetes and incompatible footwear.

“Ladies in later years will admit that they wore horrible shoes in their younger days but never realised the implications until the effects kick in over time. And with the rising rate of diabetes in Singapore, one is at risk of a whole lot of foot complications that might lead to amputation. If people were more aware of these they could take preventive measures earlier,” urges Natalie fervently.

Podiatry is still a relatively new field, with lots of areas to explore and expand.
At present, there are only 40 podiatrists in Singapore, a situation Natalie dreams of rectifying by someday opening a School of Podiatry in Singapore.

No regrets

She has had no regrets in choosing a health science scholarship.

“It gives you plenty of opportunities to go overseas and travel while doing something you are passionate about,” Natalie says with a smile.

To the undecided student, Natalie advises talking to other scholarship holders like herself to find out about their personal experiences.

“Podiatry is a very specialised area, so have an idea of what you want to do. Go on attachments, take a gap year to do community work in the related field. When you are certain of what you want, take up the scholarship and the many opportunities it opens up for you,” she concludes.

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