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Dancer to Podiatrist: How an Injury Helped this Scholar Find Her Way to a Career in Healthcare

Hannah uses the structure of a foot to show her patients how to better take care of themselves

"You need to give your body time to rest and recover from your injury. Even machines get damaged and break down if you go over the limit."

This is something that Woodlands Health Podiatrist Hannah Leong has found herself constantly telling patients, time and time again.

Thinking back, Hannah finds it ironic how she was just like one of her many patients who refuse to listen to a healthcare professional's advice.

During her primary and secondary school days, Hannah was an avid ballet dancer who participated in both local and international competitions. In fact, she came to know about the world of Podiatry when she got injured while she was training for a dance competition in Barcelona.

She remembered how her physiotherapist repeatedly cautioned her to take it easy and stay off her feet. Unfortunately, Hannah's competitive streak didn't allow her to rest and she continued pushing herself.

Eventually, this led to her suffering from chronic knee pain during her Secondary School days, which forced her to visit a Podiatrist.

"When I look at it, I can't imagine how frustrating it was for the Podiatrist to deal with me. But I do remember him being really patient and understanding."

"He carefully explained how I was damaging my body and not allowing the injury to heal properly. After that, he took me through the science behind it and showed me how the insoles he was prescribing me with would ease my pain and prevent further injury."

Heading down a new path

That would prove to be a turning point for Hannah who then had ambitions of going into medicine. Inspired, she reached out to a friend who pointed her to the BrightSparks website where she learnt more about the Podiatry profession.

After graduating from Temasek Junior College, Hannah applied for one of MOHH's healthcare attachments.

"Signing up for the attachment gave me the opportunity to shadow an actual Podiatrist at the Tan Tock Seng Hospital Foot Care & Limb Design Centre. This proved to be an excellent choice as I immensely enjoyed my time there."

The attachment cemented my resolve to pursue a career as a Podiatrist. As an added plus, I was awarded with the Healthcare Merit Award (HMA) from MOHH and chose to pursue my degree at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom (UK)."

Pursuing a Podiatry Degree in the UK

Hannah and her fellow podiatry scholars from MOHH (From left to right: Benjamin Loh, Beatrice Koh, Jaslyn Yeo, and Hannah Leong) who went for a trip to Slovenia during their semester break

Studying in the UK opened up Hannah's horizons and showed her how Podiatrists in other countries work. As part of her degree, she was also required to participate in a variety of clinical attachments in the UK, one of which was on the Isle of Wight.

There, she would work with a variety of older patients, who were happy to see a new face. To Hannah’s great surprise many of them knew of Singapore and a few had even had holidays here. During this time, Hannah's instructors also encouraged her to take on a hands-on approach to treating patients which helped boost her confidence.

On one occasion, the entire clinic had to be evacuated when the Podiatry drill Hannah was using suddenly burst into flames.

"It was quite an experience as I was working on a patient one moment, and the next thing I knew, the drill that was in my hand started emitting smoke."

"By the time I called my instructor over, the smoke was thick and quickly filling up the clinic. So, we called the fire department and evacuated all staff and patients. I was really worried but one of the clinic staff laughed it off and said that this was the most exciting thing they've seen all year round."

Hannah's other work attachments would see work in a combination of both urban and rural environments with a variety of patients.

During one placement, she even got the opportunity to observe bunion surgery being performed in Sheffield. 
Note: podiatric surgeons are not medical doctors but a podiatrist who has received specialised training. It is a profession which is only recognised in the UK.

Graduation: Returning Home to Singapore

After 3 years in the UK, Hannah returned to Singapore, where she would serve out her 6-year scholarship bond. At present, she is employed by Woodlands Health and is currently nested at Yishun Health.

Hannah is currently nested at Yishun Health (YH) and often runs a clinic at D38

As a Podiatrist, Hannah is responsible for treating patients with foot, ankle and lower limb conditions. This includes helping patients suffering from foot pain and working with those who have diabetes.

Having volunteered for World Diabetes Day awareness initiatives since she started work, the condition is something that is particularly close to Hannah's heart.

Foot problems are a common occurrence for those living with diabetes. Prolonged high sugar levels damage the blood vessels and nerves in a patient's feet over time. This can lead to pain, loss of feeling and reduced blood flow which affects the foot's ability to heal injuries.

As a result, any injuries are vulnerable to infection and can become gangrenous and require amputation.

This is where Hannah's expertise comes into play. She works with diabetic patients to assess nerve damage, identify specific risks, and develop a treatment plan to help them manage their conditions.

"Besides working with patients, I also conduct training programmes for nurses who care for diabetic patients. I pass on skills to nurses, help to improve their diabetes foot literacy and show them how to identify high risk individuals."

Hannah showing a patient a 3D scan of the foot. Photo: The patient in this photo is fictional and taken only for the purposes of this article.

"Unfortunately, many Singaporeans, especially those from the older generation, don't quite understand the risk posed by diabetes. Foot care is often overlooked until it's too late. Once that happens, treatment becomes impossible and the patient has to deal with other complications."

A Career that Rewards

Having worked as a Podiatrist for 4 years, Hannah finds the work immensely rewarding. While some patients find it difficult to keep to their treatment plans, she finds that a combination of empathy and warmth can work wonders.

"I understand that not all patients have the luxury to spend time resting. Some have financial trouble and don’t want to spend too much time away from work. Others find it difficult sitting still for an extended period of time."

"What I do is explain why it's important for them to rest their feet. I also point out how complications from not healing properly can cause even more problems in the future. Once patients understand the why, it becomes easier for them to accept what needs to happen."

When it comes to long-term plans, Hannah wants to help spread awareness of the importance of foot health amongst the general population. Where possible, she would like to join in on health seminars and speaking events.

From a professional standpoint, she hopes to one day enter the field of research and help develop better treatment programs for diabetic patients.

"There are plenty of opportunities in Podiatry and healthcare in general. You just need to approach things with an open mind and be ready to embrace opportunities to learn more. If you can do that, you won't have to worry about anything."

Want to be a Podiatrist like Hannah? You can find out more through this video.

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.