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Putting Her Best Foot Forward

Jolene Tai’s overseas study stint and on-the-job experience as a podiatrist at National University Health System has inevitably built her resilience and heightened her desire to help patients get back on their feet.

Jolene Tai is a recipient of the Health Science Scholarship (Overseas). She holds a Bachelor of Health Science and a Master in Podiatric Practice.

The National University Health System (NUHS) takes pride in its integrated Academic Health System and Regional Health System, which is recognized to be innovative, value-driven and one of the best sustainable healthcare systems in Singapore, if not the region.

The organization would not have achieved its accolades without a motivated and talented staff. Leading the charge are Health Science Scholars, who execute good character through a holistic approach via their education and career journey.

26-year-old Jolene Tai, a recipient of the Health Science Scholarship, tackles her role in podiatry with dare and fortitude. BrightSparks finds out what makes her tick to soldier on in the profession she’s ardently pursuing.

You run diabetic foot clinics in your current role. The disease is currently a hot topic in Singapore. What are your thoughts about this and how do you think the government can tackle this health issue?

As the government has said, there is a major ongoing war against diabetes. I think many people lack understanding as to how serious diabetes can actually be and the major complications it brings. Thus, it is essential to promote diabetes prevention and raise awareness of its repercussions.

What are some misconceptions about diabetic people when you’re working with them? We often hear that they are a stubborn lot.

Actually, not all are stubborn as some of them change their lifestyle for the better after getting diabetes or when they develop a foot ulcer. But coupled with other co-morbidities, like kidney failure and poor vascular supply, it is more than just a matter of lifestyle that affects their healing rate.

You have a role that is certainly challenging. With that in mind, what kind of traits are required to be a good podiatrist?

Persistence and perseverance. You will encounter chronic diabetic foot ulcers that linger for 30-odd years. Empathy for patients, especially when they develop foot ulcers, affecting their quality of life. This is compounded by some patients who are limited and lacking in their social circumstances. I also think you need to have guts to take on wounds that might look pretty terrifying in presentation, for instance, amputations and gangrene, as they can be quite scary for some people!

“Take the leap of faith if you’re truly interested in the healthcare sector, and you will be richly blessed with an experience you can’t possibly get anywhere else.”Jolene Tai
Jolene Tai
What’s the most edifying moment in this role?

I think it is more than just healing a patient’s foot ulcer. It’s the quality of life they aspire to have after their wounds heal and how their mind copes thereafter. To witness patients going back to their normal lives makes me feel proud of my contribution.

Having been trained overseas, how does Singapore compare to other countries when it comes to podiatry and its related fields?

Podiatry is still not as recognized in Singapore as compared to other countries like Australia and the United Kingdom, likely due to the lack of awareness so people don’t actually know what we do! When people think of foot pain, the first thought that comes to their mind is to visit a doctor, rarely do they think of a podiatrist! Although I do think that podiatry is slowly and surely gaining recognition here.

Apart from gaining a global perspective, what was the most enjoyable aspect of your overseas study stint?

Being able to grow spiritually as a person. Living alone overseas taught me much independence and learning to rely on God more than anything else. Also, being able to meet people from diverse cultures and discovering that there are people from the other side of the world who share the kindred spirit.

What does your family say about your job?

They are very supportive of what I do. In fact, my parents are the ones who encouraged me to continue pursuing this major when I was undecided and apprehensive about it.

Rewinding slightly, what made you decide to pursue your current career? Was the interest stemmed during a phase of your life?

I always knew that I wanted to work in the healthcare sector because I wanted to help the less fortunate and the sick. I first got to know about podiatry during my junior college days. I applied for a medicine attachment, but it was too late and they ran out of slots. Hence, they asked if I wanted to try a podiatry attachment instead. I thought, “why not?”, and that was how it all started.

And how did you discover the Health Science Scholarship?

I first heard of this scholarship after receiving my GCE ‘A’ Level results. I was thinking about what major to apply and where to apply to. My mom showed me a newspaper article about an interview with a MOHH scholar and told me to consider this scholarship.

Besides, there were not many routes to study other healthcare majors (apart from medicine) locally at that time when I first took up the scholarship, hence the scholarship provided the access I needed to pursue an alternative healthcare major, especially with regard to overseas studies. Taking on the scholarship also meant that it was financially less taxing on my parents.

What advice would you give to incoming scholars who wish to pursue this path?

Be certain of what you want to do before applying for this scholarship as it is a six-year bond! But take the leap of faith if you’re truly interested in the healthcare sector, and you will be richly blessed with an experience you can’t possibly get anywhere else.

This article was first published in BrightSparks Magazine June 2020. Republished with permission from CareerBuilder Singapore.