When someone is deeply injured, suffers from a stroke, or gets into an accident, doctors and emergency services are the first on the scene to help them.
But recovery is a much longer journey than that single moment. This is where a physiotherapist may step in to assess a patient's physical impairment and draw up personalised treatment plans with specific recovery targets. And as the person slowly works towards these goals, the physiotherapist is there with them every step of the way – providing advice, encouragement, and hope.
Fiona Lim's primary motivation to become a physiotherapist was this chance to leave a lasting improvement in someone's quality of life.
In physiotherapy, she has found a perfect fit for both her calling to help others and desire to be on the frontlines of patient interaction in a role that requires dedicated skill alongside collaborative effort – all with the best patient outcomes in mind.
"I have always been interested in human biology since secondary school," Fiona recalled. "Even while I was working on my cancer cell cultures during my polytechnic internship, I was thinking how I could directly improve someone's quality of life."
This made a career in healthcare the obvious choice for her. She watched a local television programme featuring a physiotherapist assisting a stroke patient which piqued her interest, and further research only deepened her fascination.
Fiona was particularly attracted to how physiotherapists improve quality of life in many different ways, such as assisting those with movement disorders or neurology physical impairments and even chest management for patients with breathing difficulties.
"A career in the healthcare sector allows me to communicate and listen to patients of various backgrounds throughout the day, and be around like-minded colleagues who have a similar passion to improve the lives of people with empathy and compassion," she emphasised.
In 2019, Fiona (left) and fellow scholars attended the World Confederation for Physical Therapist Congress at Geneva, a priceless opportunity to discuss the latest research and clinical practices with fellow physiotherapists and experts from various countries.
Today, Fiona has turned her interest into a career as a Physiotherapist at Woodlands Health. Currently, she is working at Tan Tock Seng Hospital before the Woodlands Health Campus opens progressively in 2023.
Her work scope comprises working with patients from various medical conditions to provide personalised treatments that target each individual's physical impairments.
The role involves a significant element of collaboration, as physiotherapists cooperate with doctors and other allied health professionals to ensure recovery goals are met. For example, a physiotherapist may consult with an occupational therapist regarding a patient's standing balance, or work with speech therapists to assist in airway clearance.
In Fiona's case, she is part of a team comprising different clinical professions that perform goal-settings for patients' rehabilitation.
She recalled how when dealing with a patient who was particularly agitated, she consulted her mentor and did some personal research, which led to understanding that identifying the cause of patient agitation comes first.
When she put this into practice, she discovered that the patient was simply hungry!
"When I explained to her that she could sit out on a chair to have lunch, she was no longer pushing me away and even allowed me to move her to the chair with ease," smiled Fiona.
This incident has remained with her as an example of a challenge she overcame through her own ingenuity and the support of helpful colleagues – a physiotherapist's work in a nutshell. It solidified her determination to do her part towards smooth patient recovery.
"Ultimately," said Fiona, "this provides the best functional outcomes for patients."
And like any good team player, she always goes the extra mile for her patients and colleagues. She conducts regular presentations on relevant topics to share the latest evidence-based practices and selected case studies, and listens to their sharings as well.
Fiona's current achievements are testament to the hard work she put into her studies to become the Physiotherapist she is today.
In fact, she was awarded the Healthcare Merit Award while completing her Bachelor of Science (Physiotherapy) at Curtin University in recognition of her strong academic track record and palpable passion towards a career in public healthcare.
The award is not simply financial. Fiona outlined a comprehensive Scholar Development Framework, which consisted of a healthcare induction course, service learning programmes and internships which supported her transition from a student to a working healthcare professional. When asked what is needed to succeed in the healthcare sector, Fiona emphasised in-depth knowledge and people skills: "Good communication skills, empathy, and a passion to provide the latest evidence-based treatment, and good time management."
For those capable of the above, the rewards are infinite. Fiona assures future healthcare professionals that they will find all that she has – "life-long learning and great job satisfaction as you are able to pursue your passion to help people while earning a living".
This article was first published in BrightSparks Magazine February 2022. Republished with permission from CareerBuilder Singapore.