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Compassion, Empathy and a Love for Rugby: How David Vun Discovered His Healthcare Calling

David with some of the friends he made while studying at the University of Strathclyde

Since his younger days, David Vun has always been fascinated with sports and everything related to the human body. And this interest is what led him to pursue a career in Prosthetics and Orthotics.

According to David, he always believed that a healthcare career was right for him because of his mother's influence.

"Growing up, my mom, who was a social worker, had a huge influence on my life. Her job put her into contact with Singaporeans from all walks of life, and I learnt a lot about social issues from her. She inspired me to develop compassion towards the disadvantaged and find meaning in serving and empowering others."

School, Rugby, and Friends at St Andrew's Secondary School 

David back in Singapore for his holiday break

With rugby being such a popular sport at St Andrew's, it's easy to see why David quickly developed a love for the sport. Besides attending matches, David also turned to Youtube and the internet to learn more about his passion.

Here, he was greeted with a wealth of information that would then lead him to the world of rugby injuries. Intrigued by the effect of injuries on players, David wanted to learn how he could help players recover and continue performing.

In his own words, "Besides watching matches, there's another aspect of rugby that interests me. And that's from seeing how players get injured and what types of treatment they receive. I know it sounds strange, but that inspired me to learn more about disabilities, injuries, and how healthcare professionals can help athletes get back on their feet."

There is also a more personal side to this as David had once suffered a severe knee injury that would limit his ability to play sports. But rather than giving in to frustration, he wanted to learn more about treating sports injuries and rehabilitation.

And the more he learnt about debilitating injuries and their effects on a person's quality of life, the more interested he became in wanting to make a difference.

"I really enjoy learning about how things work, and to me, the human body resembles a complex machine, which is actually quite true. While I may not be a competitive athlete, watching countless rugby matches sparked my fascination with the mechanics in sport and fostered an interest in human anatomy."

Experiencing a Breakthrough in Real Life

While David had always planned to enter the medical field, he didn't really know what he wanted to do with himself. And so, he decided to sign up for a job shadowing stint at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital.

Here, he was assigned to the Endocrinology ward and would work with diabetes patients. It was during this time that he made a startling realisation.

"I was shocked by the devastating effect of diabetes on patients. Many had to get major amputations, which severely limited their quality of life. And this made me realise the important role played by prosthetists and orthotists."

The experience would stay with him and a year later, David would sign up for a one-day work assignment at the Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) Foot Care & Limb Design Centre.

At the clinic, he would encounter an elderly patient who had trouble staying awake. This made it difficult to fit the prosthetic leg on the patient because he kept falling asleep.

Literally thinking on his feet, David saw that the elderly gentleman had brought a portable radio with him. And so, he guessed that the patient probably enjoyed music. Working on this, David asked the patient whether he would like to listen to some music during the fitting process.

"The patient's face lit up, and he cheerfully agreed. He even shared some of his favourite songs with me and invited me to sing along. And because he stopped falling asleep, it made it a lot easier for the prosthetist to work. This incident showed me how important people skills are for someone looking to take up a career in prosthetics and orthotics. You need to be creative, patient, empathetic, and caring when it comes to your patients."

Besides elderly patients, one interesting encounter David had was with a Category A prisoner who was getting treated by the specialists at TTSH.  Category A prisoners are convicts who are considered to be of high risk and danger to others.

Despite the patient's legal status, David was impressed by the level of care given. The prosthetist on duty took the time to carefully design a prosthesis that would fit comfortably and reduce discomfort.

As David tells us, "The patient was actually having problems wearing the prosthesis as it would hurt during walking, and this severely limited the patient's mobility. So the prosthetist let the patient try a few different designs to see which one fitted best. Eventually, the patient settled on a design that was suitable."

"The whole time he was extremely professional and treated the patient gently. You could see that it made a big difference that he didn't show any prejudice or fear towards the patient."

Prosthetists and Orthotists: Getting Patients Up and On their Feet

David at one of his practical training sessions at the University of Strathclyde

All of these experiences would serve to bring David to where he is today. Currently, David is pursuing a degree in Prosthetics & Orthotics at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow.

The 4-year undergraduate program includes both academic and practical training. Students will learn about human anatomy and prosthetic and orthotic science, amongst others. In their final year, students must undertake 2 clinical placements, one in prosthetics and the other in orthotics.

These modules are proposed by the United Kingdom's National Health Service (NHS) and several private companies in the industry. All of which ensures that students receive a good mix of academic and practical training.

David's education at the University of Strathclyde will ensure that his skills are easily transferable from university to the real world. His degree is accredited by the International Society for Prosthetics & Orthotics and is recognised by Singapore's Ministry of Health.

Upon breaking the good news to his mom, David says her humorous response was, "That's amazing, but I don't think I can pronounce your job title."

Naturally, being in Scotland takes David far away from his friends and family. But thanks to his sunny disposition, fitting in hasn't been much of an issue. While rather chilly, he finds the weather agreeable and has made friends amongst the small Singaporean and Malaysian student community.

David with some of his Scottish friends

And thanks to his friendly nature, David has also made friends with several Scottish students from around the area. He advises potential overseas students to adopt an open attitude towards everything. In his opinion, David believes that one should be open to new experiences and be comfortable with change.

As for his long-term plans, David says, "It is my desire as a healthcare professional to help patients regain their freedom and give them the confidence to live life to the fullest. Ultimately, inspiring patients to be able and independent is what makes this field meaningful, and is its own reward."

Inspired by David's story?

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