“The quote ‘living life to the fullest despite difficulties’ is one that I feel a strong connection with. I want to bring out the best in people as I believe that everyone has hidden potential - they just need a spark to ignite the fire in them, to push them forward to achieve their goals.”
Hsien Loong shared this as part of his personal value statement. It spurred him to search for a career that would allow him to motivate others to go beyond their self-imposed limits.
In his search, the Community Care Scholar discovered that he enjoys being at the frontline and empowering others to reintegrate back into the community. As therapy work in the Community Care sector focuses on providing longer term holistic care, it resonated with him. Hence, Hsien Loong decided to join the sector as an Occupational Therapist where he can strengthen and support seniors through their rehabilitation and recovery process.
Hsien Loong recalled many fortuitous encounters that led him to the path of Occupational Therapy.
When he was in secondary school, Hsien Loong struggled with his studies. A teacher took time to speak with him and encouraged him. The encouragement inspired him to study hard and do better. He soon uncovered his interest in Chemistry and considered becoming a teacher, as he wanted to follow the footsteps of many of his teachers who patiently steered students in the right direction.
While pursuing a Diploma in Medicinal Chemistry at Nanyang Polytechnic, he realised that a laboratory-based career was not a suitable match with his desire to serve, help, and inspire others. When a friend shared with him about her exploration of university courses that included Occupational Therapy, he took the opportunity to find out more.
Upon graduating from polytechnic, Hsien Loong took up a part-time role as a Patient Service Associate at Tan Tock Seng Hospital where he was given the opportunity to shadow an Occupational Therapist. He saw how the profession was most aligned with his personal values and career aspiration of helping others regain their confidence and physical ability.
Hsien Loong subsequently enrolled in the four-year Occupational Therapy degree programme at the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT). He also applied for the MOH Holdings (MOHH) Community Care Scholarship. He was successfully awarded the scholarship in view of his strong academic standing, passion, aptitude, and interest to shape and grow the Community Care sector.
As Hsien Loong embarked on his studies, he observed that active holistic care was key in improving a client’s overall quality of life. It can enable the person to resume their daily routines, and transit into living independently.
He said, “This is meaningful as I will be able to provide a deeper level of care, while gaining a better understanding of my clients’ or residents’ difficulties. Care is not just about addressing their personal domains. It considers other social factors such as their families, the physical environment of their homes, the community, and even their caregivers’ perspectives and worries. All these factors impact the recovery journey, so being able to identify and work through these issues will truly bring out the strengths and importance of Occupational Therapy.”
Journey As a Future Occupational Therapist
Hsien Loong’s clinical studies have been tough yet rewarding. He was particularly inspired by the use of theoretical models in Occupational Therapy. These serve as tools to guide the treatment and assessment of seniors, while taking into account multifactorial components such as the person’s environment and lifestyle.
Hsien Loong found this approach useful in understanding and improving himself, not just as an Occupational Therapist, but also as a person. “A professor once told us to always frame ourselves using a model, find out what we are lacking, and improve those areas. I routinely use this approach to identify areas of self-improvement. It also helps future Occupational Therapists like myself to harness the benefits of these models, because we have tried and tested them,” he explained.
As a Community Care Scholar assigned to Ren Ci Hospital, Hsien Loong looks forward to starting work. He wants to apply his knowledge, advocate for the needs of his clients, and bring out the best in them. “As Ren Ci primarily serves the elderly population, it will an insightful learning experience, and I look forward to being able to contribute and provide my perspective in a person-centred fashion,” he enthused.
Hsien Loong was also thankful for the opportunities that the scholarship has provided. He shared that MOHH has a developmental roadmap for scholars to explore different avenues. They can not only interact with scholars of various healthcare disciplines, but also tap on the Scholars Development Fund to attend courses and seminars that enhance one’s learning on both personal and professional fronts. The sessions he attended were eye-opening experiences that enabled him to understand how he and his fellow scholars can work together to contribute to the overall healthcare system. This made him think about how he could add value to his peers as they work together in multi-disciplinary teams in the future.
During his first clinical placement, Hsien Loong had a memorable encounter with an elderly patient. Although she was at her end-of-life stage, she remained positive throughout her therapy sessions.
“On the first day we met, she was smiling and cheerful,” Hsien Loong shared. “A few days later, she was so fatigued that she could barely open her eyes. Aside from groaning, she could hardly communicate with us. When we had our final therapy session, I could see that she had utilised all the energy within her as she opened her eyes, smiled at me, and thanked me. That was a very significant moment where I knew that I had made a positive impact on someone’s life,” he recounted.
Hsien Loong concluded with a few words of wisdom for prospective Occupational Therapists and Community Care Scholars, “The journey to become a full-fledged Occupational Therapist or any healthcare professional is not easy. It can certainly get exhausting. As you progress, you will find that the values you hold close to you will benefit you. With each passing day, your eagerness and resolve will grow stronger to serve in the field of healthcare. Be assured that you will not be in this journey alone, as the Occupational Therapy field is a close-knitted community.”
“Never give up, because you will be able to see the seeds of your labour come to fruition.”
This article was first published in BrightSparks Magazine February 2023. Republished with permission from CareerBuilder Singapore.