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Making His Own Path — How Physiotherapy Opened up New Horizons for Henry Qi

Helping a patient with the parallel bars in the rehabilitation gym. Photo: The patient in this photo is fictional and taken only for the purpose of this article.

Like many of his peers, Henry Qi found himself in the unenviable position of choosing between his parent's expectations and going with his heart.

As he candidly says with a laugh, "My parents were all for me going into medicine, but I didn't want to do that. My impression was that doctors did not have as much patient-fronting time as nurses and rehab staff. Instead, I wanted something hands-on that gave me the freedom to move around, which was why I initially wanted to become a geologist."

However, Henry's parents remained adamant and advised him to explore the world of healthcare for himself before making a decision. And so, he set out to find a middle ground between his parent's hopes and his own aspirations.

Exploring the World of Healthcare After Junior College

So, having completed his A Levels at River Valley High School, Henry signed up for an internship at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH). During his internship, he shadowed various allied health professionals and interacted with the patients.

And much to his surprise, he realised that he was actually enjoying the work. The constant stream of action and the fact that he wasn't bound to a desk appealed to the adventurous young man.

"One of the best things about my internship at TTSH was the patient and staff interaction. I'm more of an extrovert, and I enjoy talking to people. Adding onto the fact that you're constantly on the move to new places makes the work all the more enjoyable."

Despite his enthusiasm, Henry still remained undecided about a career in the healthcare sector. While the work was enjoyable, he had yet to find a profession that truly resonated with him. Fortunately, all that would change when he shadowed a physiotherapist at the TTSH Foot Care & Limb Design Centre.

The Centre treats patients who have had a limb or limbs amputated and helps them adjust to their new conditions. At this clinic, Henry had the privilege of watching a physiotherapist in action.

"It was amazing watching him (physiotherapist) work with the patient. He was both compassionate and skilful at the same time, and this really impressed me. It was probably at that moment that everything just clicked for me. And I realised that this was what I was looking for all along"

Inspired, Henry realised that a career in physiotherapy was for him. And so, he set out to learn more about the profession and its qualifications. This would eventually lead him to the Healthcare Merit Award, which offers full scholarships for education at a local or overseas university.

Friends and Education at the University of Sydney

Recognising an amazing opportunity, Henry applied for the Healthcare Scholarship programme with the intention of pursuing a Bachelor of Applied Science (Physiotherapy).

After successfully applying for and receiving the Healthcare Merit Award, Henry was accepted by the University of Sydney. As part of this training, Henry and his course mates are taught how to assess, diagnose, and treat patients suffering from all types of joint, muscle and nerve disorders.

Students also learn how to help patients avoid injuries and maintain physical fitness. The course offers a balance of academic and practical learning, with students being required to complete four practicum placements during their third and fourth years. Clinical placements are located in various New South Wales Health Facilities in rural and urban areas.

Although apprehensive about his move overseas, Henry found himself easily adapting to life overseas.

"My first week in Sydney did feel quite lonely. I had just completed National Service and was not used to life without my bunk mates, friends and family. But, I quickly made friends with fellow Singaporeans and local students. I wanted to get the full overseas experience, so I made it a point to befriend as many local students as I could."

Henry also found himself enjoying the topics covered in his studies. From human anatomy to sporting injuries, the challenging syllabus and practical placements helped build up his confidence and skills.

Changing Lives as a Physiotherapist

Getting to know the patient's needs and teaching him how to use the treadmill. Photo: The patient in this photo is fictional and taken only for the purpose of this article.

Having successfully completed his studies, Henry returned home to Singapore, where he began his 6-year bond. He is currently working as a physiotherapist in the acute ward, treating in-patients at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital.

As he tells it, "Working in the acute ward, you meet a lot of patients who have suddenly fallen ill or gotten sick. They find physiotherapy difficult and even painful, so there's quite a bit of pushback."

"And so, you need to find ways to engage with them so that they begin to believe that you are not out there to make their lives even more difficult. I prefer taking a light-hearted approach to things by joking with my patients and getting them to open up. I also try to keep a fixed schedule to help patients fall into a routine."

Henry stands in the middle of the rehabilitation gym

When asked about some memorable moments during his career so far, Henry says, "It was during my shift at the ICU ward when there was a patient whose vital signs suddenly started to fall. His oxygen (O2) levels were crashing and without quick intervention he would die. It was because of a build-up of phlegm in his lungs, which makes breathing difficult."

"The doctors on duty realised this and knew that we had to clear his lungs. So, they started paging for physios, and as it happened, I was on duty. I dropped everything and sprinted over to help."

This was a scary moment for Henry with everyone looking to him for guidance. Remembering his training, he started performing percussions to try and clear the patient's lungs. Percussion is a technique used by physiotherapists to deliver force to the patient's lung region.

"I got everyone else to join in and help me out. And I have to say, my colleagues were fantastic. There was a respiratory therapist who was helping manage the patient's O2 levels along with doctors, pharmacists, and nurses on standby."

And together we managed to clear the patient's lungs. After that, a radiographer came by to perform a chest x-ray to see if our interventions had worked. That was probably one of the most exciting moments that I've had as a physiotherapist. Seeing everyone work together as one to save a life, is something else altogether."

Practising Professional & Personal Self-Care

Henry is particularly fond of the great outdoors. Pictured here is Henry on a diving trip.

While he loves his job, Henry makes it a point to do what he enjoys once his shift ends. This includes things like going to the gym and working out or just watching his favourite shows on Netflix.

He also makes it a point to not talk about work during social gatherings with friends, family or colleagues. According to Henry, it's important for healthcare professionals to keep the professional separate from the personal.

Doing this goes a long way towards preventing burnout, and gives his mind time to recover on its own. So that way, he comes back feeling refreshed and ready to take on any new challenges.

And thanks to a strong culture of cooperation and mutual support, Henry knows that there are always friendly faces around ready to lend a helping hand. Some examples of this positive work environment include, zero tolerance for finger-pointing and blame, along with measures which ensure that team members always have adequate time for rest and recuperation.

Despite the challenges of healthcare work, Henry has zero regrets about his life path. And for those looking to follow in his footsteps, he has this to say:

"Hands-on experience is a must if you're interested in a career within the healthcare sector. In reality, many students don't have a clear picture of what medical work is like. Many jump in and only realise that it's not for them once it's too late, and that's a real waste."

"Also, remember that listening skills are a must for healthcare professionals. You have to empathise with your patients to put them at ease."

Inspired by Henry's story? If you are, then you may want to consider a career in physiotherapy.

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