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Empowering Patients One Day at a Time with the Institute of Mental Health

Shivani teaching a patient how to take care of plants. Gardening is a therapeutic activity OTs use to engage patients.

Inspiration comes to us in many ways. For this scholar, her source of inspiration came during a 3-day programme at Changi General Hospital's (CGH) inpatient rehab ward.

As she watched the occupational therapist (OT) at work, something clicked within Shivani. Here was a professional who worked to give patients back their independence and help them regain a sense of normalcy, and immediately, she found herself drawn to the work.

"My time with the OT at CGH was an eye-opening experience. I learnt about how OTs help patients get better through their work and this really aligned with my values. Then and there, I decided that I wanted to take up a degree in occupational therapy."

Despite this newfound revelation, Shivani still had her doubts. For one, she was worried that she may be embarking on something that was too "specific", and that it could affect her career prospects. But after some extensive research and a bit of soul-searching, Shivani decided to take a leap of faith.

Having come across the MOHH's Healthcare Merit Award (HMA) during her work attachment at CGH, Shivani saw this as an excellent opportunity to get started. After a successful application process, she would pursue a Bachelor of Applied Science (Occupational Therapy) (Honours) at the University of Sydney.

Heading to the Land Down Under

When Shivani first landed in Sydney, she found herself living in an entirely new environment and was initially overwhelmed. Fortunately, she had been an avid hockey player during her days at Raffles Institution and was trained to stay calm under pressure and give everything her all. So, she put her head down and threw herself fully into student life at the University of Sydney.

Being an adventurous person, Shivani came to appreciate the outdoorsy nature of the activities she participated in on campus.

She would participate in bushwalking expeditions with her course-mates and made friends with both foreign and local students. The presence of a large Singaporean student community on campus also helped her to adapt comfortably.

Shivani and her friends at the Rehabweek Conference in Toronto, Canada

Whilst in campus Shivani made use of the Scholar Development Fund which covered her trips to Canada and France where she attended international healthcare conferences. These conferences allowed her to learn more about the latest developments in the occupational therapy field of practice and also gave her the opportunity to network with others in the profession. 

Other than conferences, Shivani picked up plenty of first-hand experiences during her two on-site clinical placements in Australia. These placements lasted for about six to seven weeks and helped her to hone her skills and improve her clinical knowledge.

"Studying in Australia was a great experience for me. I learned how to work with individuals from different nationalities and picked up plenty of real-work experiences. Many of the skills that I had learnt were also transferable to our local context."

Returning Home to Serve Singaporeans

Shivani stands in the middle of one of the activities room at IMH

Currently, Shivani is serving out her 6-year scholarship bond at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH)'s inpatient acute ward where she works with adults diagnosed with various mental health disorders.

As an OT, Shivani's aim is to support patients as they engage in activities related to self-care, work and leisure. She conducts various assessments to determine their functional status and works closely with them to set meaningful goals.

Her other tasks include conducting activity group sessions in the ward which includes various therapeutic activities such as meal preparation, arts and crafts, sports, and even drumming.

"The aim here is to engage with patients to help them acquire or relearn daily living skills," Shivani says.

But the road to recovery is challenging and some patients have a tough time coping. Thankfully, patients can count on Shivani's supportive presence.

"Establishing rapport allows me to work collaboratively with patients to set meaningful goals and understand their difficulties. Therefore, it's important that we continuously seek to understand our patients' experiences and their perspectives."

Through a combination of patience and persistence, Shivani and her colleagues have helped patients relearn or reacquire independent living skills, which helps them live meaningful lives in the community.

It is challenging but extremely rewarding work according to Shivani who feels a sense of satisfaction watching her patients improve over time.

Reaching Out to Those Who Need It Most

Despite her best efforts, not all patients are entirely cooperative. Some react with anger during therapy sessions and others shut down entirely to retreat into a shell. But Shivani and her colleagues take this in their stride.

Shivani shares, "It is not always easy to connect with or build rapport with patients. The key is to take things slowly and make sure that you treat them with respect and dignity. You need to find something that clicks with them and eventually, that will help them open up."

"Meeting different patients on the job has showed me the importance of continually learning how to understand people. "While we do develop core communication skills at university, it's important to keep building upon them in our daily work."

This can-do attitude has served Shivani well throughout her time at IMH and made it easier for patients to relate with her.

One memorable incident still stands out to her to this day, "I was working with a patient who preferred to just sit in a corner by himself and refused to participate in any activities."

Taking into account her previous experiences, Shivani attempted to engage with the patient in a meaningful way. During her assessment, she noticed that he was extremely careful and meticulous in everything he did, and of how he took pride in maintaining a neat appearance.

Shivani teaching a patient how to do the dishes. Such activities are a part of household management, an important aspect of independent living.

So, Shivani designed a variety of activities that would suit the patient's strengths by incorporating it into the therapy session. The activities included basic household chores like folding clothes and bed-making

The patient then started to enjoy his sessions with her. His mood began to improve and he would even help other patients with their chores. Building on the small success, Shivani then introduced the patient to origami which he immensely enjoyed. He even made an origami as a gift for Shivani!

An Eye on The Future

In the long-term, Shivani intends to sharpen her clinical skills and learn more from her seniors at IMH.

"There is still plenty for me to learn in terms of continually developing my clinical reasoning skills and learning about evidence-based practices. It's great how my seniors are always willing to help me learn more and I intend to make the most of it. Aside from that, I hope to participate in more occupational therapy related conferences to expand my knowledge and skills as an OT."

If you're looking to pursue a career in OT, Shivani recommends that you learn as much as possible about the profession. It is a hands-on career that calls for dedication and plenty of compassion. So, it's important to know exactly what you're getting yourself into.

MOH Holdings (MOHH) is currently offering scholarships to nurture the next generation of nursing, pharmacy and allied health professionals. These scholarships are in partnership with public healthcare institutions and allow you to study in local and overseas universities. For more details on the health science disciplines offered, check out this page