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A Matter of Life and Breath

Allied Health Professionals are often at the heart of healthcare, serving their patients with dedication and passion. Senior Respiratory Therapist, Yvonne Cheng Fenelus, exemplifies this by going the distance to save the lives of her patients.

Senior Respiratory Therapist Yvonne Cheng diagnoses, manages and treats patients with cardiopulmonary disorders. She is with the National University Hospital and holds a Bachelor's Health Science (Respiratory Therapy) under the Healthcare Merit Award from the University of Missouri.

Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity.” While Hippocrates’ words may appear to apply only to doctors, they ring true for any medical practitioner. From nurses to therapists to medical staff in a variety of roles, each and every individual in our healthcare system has his or her part to play in saving lives.

One such individual, who is playing an important role in saving lives is Yvonne Cheng Fenelus. As a Senior Respiratory Therapist, she diagnoses, manages and treats patients with cardiopulmonary disorders at the National University Hospital (NUH). Her exposure to work in different settings and teams is exactly what attracted her to this specialisation.

Yvonne’s personal experiences made her decide early on pursuing a career in nursing having had asthma in childhood. Her constant visits to hospital for both herself and her mother’s lung condition gave her a deep appreciation of an act we take for granted so often – breathing.

“I came to the realisation that breathing is not something to be taken for granted. As the saying goes, ‘When you can’t breathe, nothing else matters.’ This is what motivates me to pursue this career path,” she said.

Yvonne Cheng
Gaining Greater Exposure

Keen to find out more about the career options available for allied health professionals, Yvonne came across the Healthcare Merit Award. The Award opened the doors for her to enter this highly specialised field. She undertook a Bachelor of Health Science (Respiratory Therapy) from the University of Missouri, the first university in the United States to establish a Respiratory Therapy programme with a comprehensive clinical practices curriculum.

The overseas exposure was especially important to her as she detailed how overseas studies widened her worldview and exposed her to many different viewpoints. There were also more specific, locally-oriented gains such as being able to attend the 2014 Singapore seminar held in Boston with other scholarship holders from Singapore.

“As part of the scholarship programme, I did my first attachment in NUH during my first year of studies, where I was exposed to practical on-the-ground learning, alongside experienced Respiratory Therapists with deep domain knowledge. I learnt a lot from my mentors from NUH during my attachment and eventually my mentor served as my referrer to major in Respiratory Therapy in my second year of studies,” she said.

With NUH being the first university hospital in Singapore and a major tertiary and referral institution under the National University Health System (NUHS), Yvonne has plenty of opportunities to put her learning into practice during her work. “Patients may get transferred from other entities under the NUHS to NUH for specific services that are only available in NUH. At NUH, I get to learn how to tailor care and manage patients who are diagnosed with various conditions. For instance, I get to work with patients requiring airway stenting and extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation,” she explained.

Aside from her day-to-day duties, she also consults and collaborates with the multi-disciplinary care team to formulate care plans for the patients. She also takes time to ensure that she is up-to-date with new developments in her field, and educates other healthcare workers, caregivers and patients on disease management. This is especially important as Respiratory Therapy is a lesser-known field, and Yvonne is grateful for supportive colleagues who help her conduct training and share the work.

“I find it incredibly meaningful to know that my work has helped someone breathe easier and live on.”
Yvonne Cheng
Worth The Work

As she continues to deepen her knowledge and skills, Yvonne hopes to contribute to quality improvement projects and research in respiratory care. She also plans to develop in other sub-specialties to become a well-rounded Respiratory Therapist and leader in her field of practice.

For Yvonne, seeing her patients get better is what inspires her each day. She encourages those who aspire to make a difference in the lives of others to embark on this fulfilling profession.

“The sense of fulfilment to see patients who were critically ill, get better and discharged, is what drives me to continue to pursue this career,” said Yvonne. “As Respiratory Therapists, we see babies take their first breath and some patients take their last. For me, this contrasting hope and frailty makes me appreciate life more deeply. I find it incredibly meaningful to know that my work has helped someone breathe easier and live on.”

This article was first published in BrightSparks Magazine February 2023. Republished with permission from CareerBuilder Singapore.