he only constant in life, they say, is change. And SIT student Ivan Tan's educational journey certainly personifies that. A career in occupational therapy (OT) was never on this real estate diploma holder's radar until a back injury sustained in National Service saw him undergoing physiotherapy sessions on his way towards full recovery.
It was during those sessions that it struck Ivan that a career in OT could be meaningful. "You have a hand in improving someone's quality of life," says Ivan, now 23. A visit to SIT's Open House further fanned that flame. "I realised I qualified for admission," he says. "The course also marries aspects of physical rehabilitation with mental health, something I've always been keen to contribute towards."
So Ivan took the plunge, enrolling in an undergraduate course that had little in common with his prior area of study. Now in his third year and having recently completed his clinical practice, which is part of SIT's integrated work study programme, at Bright Vision Hospital (BVH), Ivan has continued to find it necessary to continually adapt quickly and learn.
Just three weeks into his internship at BVH, which is managed by SingHealth Community Hospitals, Ivan has already found himself working on patients' case files, performing assessments for new admissions, and even carrying out therapy sessions — under the tutelage of his clinical educator. "Every day is fast-paced and filled with a wide variety of learning experiences," says Ivan. "In the initial stages, I felt like a sponge, soaking in everything, and the pages of my notebook filled up very quickly!"
Being assigned to both the rehabilitation and palliative wards meant that Ivan has to switch bedside manners frequently to meet different patients' needs. Patients in rehab, says Ivan, typically get better by the day, while for those in palliative care, conditions can deteriorate overnight. "It is a constant shifting of gears with rehabilitation being faster paced and recovery- oriented, while palliative care is focused on interest exploration and providing closure and comfort," he explains.
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PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE
Not all of Ivan's internship tasks are new or unfamiliar experiences. In-depth lessons at SIT in anatomy and physiology, for example, help Ivan better understand patients' conditions and how these can affect their physical and mental functions. Two years of comprehensive classroom training has also prepared him for the real challenges of patient-handling, including tasks like transferring patients into a wheelchair. "These transfer techniques have been taught to us since year one and have since become procedural memory, enabling me to focus on the patient and his performance," says Ivan.
The opportunity to apply academic knowledge to real world experiences is key to student's long term success, says SIT's Industry Advisory Committee (IAC) member and manpower director of National Council of Social Service (NCSS), Mr Anjan Ghosh. "Industry exposure enables students to truly understand the roles that they are expected to perform upon graduation. It also provides an opportunity for students to test-drive the knowledge derived in classroom into practice," says Mr Ghosh.
Ivan recalls rolling out an activity for a new patient, only to notice that the patient had serious difficulty in performing the suggested exercise. Tapping into what he had learnt by then, Ivan set to narrow down the patient's limitations, and revised the activities accordingly, achieving a more positive outcome. "The experience was especially memorable to me as it was the very first time I saw my theoretical learning from the degree programme come alive in treatment and assessment of a patient," says Ivan. "Everything we've learnt equips us well for clinical practice."
“Everything we've learnt equips us well for clinical practice.”
The learning never stops
Students with attachment experience in a hospital setting are preferred by the industry as they will be more adept at adapting to clinical work as fresh hires, says BVH's occupational therapist Ms Yumi Watanabe, also Ivan's internship supervisor. "Their training and onboarding process can be expedited as a result," she says.
With the introduction of advanced technology, the healthcare landscape is quickly shifting. Additionally, OT services are extending beyond hospital inpatient settings and into the community. OTs of the future will increasingly find their skills in demand within homes and home-based hospices, Ms Watanabe says.
"It is therefore important for OTs to be updated with new knowledge and skills, and apply evidence-based skills in their own clinical work, in order to provide more effective treatments," says Ms Watanabe, adding that she is more than happy to train incoming students, "grooming [them] to be competent OTs who shape the future healthcare system".
An advocate of lifelong learning, Ivan is geared up for any challenge ahead. Scrubs and game face on, he says: "Going forward, I know I must always be kept abreast on the latest research and technology so I can do my job better and improve treatment outcomes for my patients."