Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT)
Features | Further Education

Educating the Next Generation
of Occupational Therapists

Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) believes in integrating theory with handson application, and its new four-year Occupational Therapy programme (to be launched in 2016) will do just that in grooming SIT students to become future ‘Masters of Daily Living’.

To  an Occupational Therapist (OT), the word 'occupation' refers to important, meaningful activities which people perform on a daily basis – eating, getting dressed, playing and other daily routines which are significant in our lives. For people with mental, physical or cognitive disabilities, these daily occupations may be adversely affected. OTs play an important role in helping to restore the dignity and productivity of patients in their day-to-day living.

In light of the noble duty that OTs perform, they have been fondly nicknamed the 'Masters of Daily Living'. This epithet is a key motivator for Dr May Lim, Assistant Professor, SIT, whose work involves the setting up of an academic framework to educate the next generation of OTs.

Dr Lim, who is also Deputy Director of Centre for Learning Environment and Assessment Development (Co-LEAD), SIT, is not only involved in designing 'authentic assessments' and interactive class sessions for the degree programme, she also coordinates faculty development programmes in learning and teaching. She also engages regularly with hospitals and Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs) to get their input on Occupational Therapy requirements.

Dr Lim adds with a smile, “I strongly believe in keeping in touch with clinical practice – outside of my academic work, I practice as a consultant OT at a VWO every fortnight. In addition, I make it a point to catch up with my current students and alumni to keep up with their progress, and to get a better understanding of how our programme can be improved.”

Tell us more about the upcoming four-year Occupational Therapy programme.

Dr May Lim: The Occupational Therapy programme, which will be launched in 2016, will incorporate at least 1,000 hours of field work where students can learn through clinical practice education and not just in the classroom. Students will undergo 'authentic assessments' to test their skills and knowledge application – this programme evaluates students on an all-rounded basis, something that’s very important for Occupational Therapy.

Dr May Lim Sok Mui

Designation: Assistant Professor, Academic Programmes

Deputy Director – Centre for Learning
Environment and Assessment Development (Co-LEAD)

Studied: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD),
The University of Queensland, Australia

Graduate Certificate of Higher Education,
The University of Queensland, Australia

Bachelor of Science in Occupational Therapy,
First-Class Honours, St Loye's School of
Health Studies,
University of Exeter, UK

Inter-professional education is an important aspect of the programme and students will work in close collaboration with relevant disciplines (nursing, physiotherapy, etc.). SIT has a very strong science/technology focus and this will be a unique aspect of the programme – students will be able to learn about utilising technology to solve healthcare challenges, such as 'wearable technology' devices that can used for self-management of chronic conditions and smart devices that remind senior citizens to take their medication.

And while OTs play a key role in rehabilitation within the acute care and community hospitals, there is also a shift in practice toward working within the community, where people can better manage their lives with a lesser need for acute care services. OTs get to work with a wide range of patients, from very young children (for example those with autism) to adults (for example those with schizophrenia) and the elderly (for example those who’ve suffered a stroke) across a broad developmental continuum. We are also seeing OTs working in different settings such as kindergartens.

How will the programme prepare students for their future role as OTs?

Dr Lim: The programme will follow one of SIT’s 'DNA traits' – Grounded in Community – and will immerse students in the real world as much as possible. Occupational Therapy focuses on what I like to describe as the 'Three Overlapping Circles' – Person, Environment and Occupation. Our students will learn how to utilise these three focal areas to overcome real-world problems for patients with physical and mental disabilities.

For instance, to help minimise the incidence of senior citizen falls, the Environment can be varied by installing grip bars and railings, especially in the bathroom. On the Person aspect, we can educate senior citizens on the importance of keeping physically active while motivating them to do so. Finally, we can focus on Occupation by changing the way a daily task is carried out so that fall risks can be minimised.

Students will be able to participate in this hands-on learning process when paired with simulated or even actual patients, and we will also assess their communication and interaction skills with patients from all walks of life. There will certainly be countless opportunities for students to 'think out-of-the-box' to solve problems and be well-equipped to join the workforce in the future.

Tell us about the process of setting up the Occupational Therapy programme at SIT.

Dr Lim: The new degree programme will be the only Occupational Therapy degree programme in Singapore, so naturally we face the challenge of growing and developing the field at the undergraduate level.

Towards this end, we visited overseas universities and brought back good pedagogy and 'best practices' to be localised for the Singapore environment – our curriculum has gone through numerous iterations as a result. We also learn from the academic staff teaching in the Occupational Therapy diploma programme, as we want to continue working with relevant partners to achieve a more holistic approach to Occupational Therapy.

"The programme will follow one of SIT’s 'DNA traits' – Grounded in Community – and will immerse students in the real world as much as possible."

When setting up this programme, it was very helpful to get constant feedback from different stakeholders – students, alumni, patients and their families, existing OTs, other Allied Health professionals and faculty members from other disciplines – on what was done well and what needed to be improved. We also worked closely with the Singapore Association of Occupational Therapists to identify attributes needed in the next generation of OTs.

What are some factors that aspiring Occupational Therapy students at SIT should bear in mind?

Dr Lim: Many young adults are keen to join the healthcare sector but tend to only consider the more common professions, such as doctors and nurses. It’s important to have an open mind and do your research to learn more about other healthcare professions, such as Occupational Therapy.

Of course, having a good command of language and background knowledge of scientific theory are essential, as these two aspects are very important for aspiring OTs. Applicants should also be creative, innovative individuals who believe very strongly in evidence-based therapy.

Your personality is important as well; not just your grades. It’s good to shadow professionals or even volunteer at VWOs to give you an insight into what we do and build up your 'soft' skills. This will be very helpful at application interviews as you will be assessed on your communication skills, how well you articulate your passion to the interviewers and most importantly, your ability to connect with people!

What additional advice do you have for students applying for the Occupational Therapy degree programme at SIT?

Dr Lim: It’s been very fulfilling to see students from the current one-year Occupational Therapy degree top-up course blossom across the semesters; going from shy and reserved to becoming outspoken when discussing and debating various Occupational Therapy issues. To me, this only reinforces the importance of growing through experiential learning at SIT.

OTs have the potential to empower patients to take charge of their own lives and bring about real, substantive improvement to one’s quality of life – I myself became an OT to help people get well and live life fully. At the end of the day, if you are creative, enjoy problem-solving and want to base your knowledge on evidence, then Occupational Therapy is a very viable career choice and one with a path that is truly rewarding.