Tan Xianghong helps children and youths get back to engaging in their roles or daily tasks as an Occupational Therapist at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital. She took on a Health Science Scholarship and holds a Bachelor of Occupational Therapy from University of Queensland in Australia. Three years into her service, Xianghong accepted an In-Service Scholarship to pursue a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy at Tufts University in the United States.
SingHealth has a network of acute hospitals, national specialty centres, community hospitals and polyclinics offering over 40 clinical specialties, making it Singapore’s largest public healthcare cluster. As part of the SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre, SingHealth also works with Duke-NUS Medical School to advance medical research and education to improve patient care.
Right at the heart of the extensive organisation are its dedicated staff, who always have a patient-first approach to providing care. Tan Xianghong adopts that ethos to a tee in her role as an Occupational Therapist at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.
“In my daily work, I see children between six months and 18 years of age in both the outpatient as well as inpatient settings. I work with children and their caregivers in facilitating the development of skills, and/or modification of the activity or environment to help children engage in meaningful activities that they need to or want to participate in,” she explained.
“These may include self-care, school participation and play activities. I also run several multi-disciplinary clinics with other healthcare professionals. For example, in one of the clinics, I collaborate with the speech and language therapist to conduct paired and group social skills interventions for school-aged children.”
Putting Others First
Xianghong was always looking to join a profession that helps other people, which was why she was all ears at a career talk on Occupational Therapy that was held at her secondary school. She explored the profession more intimately after her GCE A-levels.
She said: “I was given an opportunity to shadow an Occupational Therapist at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital for a day. From that experience, I got to learn more about the work of paediatric occupational therapists.”
Suffice to say, the experience more than convinced her to embark on a career in the discipline. She took on a Health Science Scholarship sponsored by the Ministry of Health and went on to pursue a Bachelor of Occupational Therapy at the University of Queensland in Australia. She felt that it was a practical and necessary decision then.
“I applied for the scholarship as it opened up the possibility of being able to study overseas and allowed me to pursue my course of interest without placing a financial burden on my family. Occupational Therapy was not offered in Singapore as a bachelor’s degree during my year of study.”
The stint overseas trained her to be an Occupational Therapist, and gave her lessons that would not have been possible if she had stayed in Singapore.
“Apart from the educational experience of learning from well-known and respected faculty in the profession and the enriching clinical placements, studying overseas also gave me the autonomy of taking charge of my own life and learning. Additionally, the friendships formed are some of the strongest that I have had, even till today.”
Outreach and Educate
A healthcare professional is most certainly a multi-faceted one. In addition to her core duties of being an Occupational Therapist, Xianghong also reaches out to the community to share knowledge as well as best practices.
“Last year, together with my school-based project team, we organised a series of talks for primary school teachers and allied educators. These talks allowed participants to learn more about handwriting, sensory processing, behavioural and social skills difficulties in school-aged children,” she explained.
“I feel that community outreach projects like these can have a far-reaching impact as we are empowering educators who work with students on a daily basis. This is different from our usual direct therapy services where we provide intervention to one patient at a time.”
Xianghong said that scholars can expect similar experiences in SingHealth, where there is multi-disciplinary collaboration in various aspects of work. There are also chances to mentor Occupational Therapy students and new staff, and training opportunities in clinical and non-clinical areas, such as leadership.
“In my third year of work, I accepted an In-Service Scholarship, jointly awarded by the Ministry of Health and KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, to pursue my Masters at Tufts University in the United States of America.”
Xianghong has benefited from the openings given to her as a scholar and she urged like-minded individuals to join her in healthcare.
She advised: “Taking up a scholarship is a big commitment, therefore I would recommend taking the opportunity to find out as much about the course of study as well as the career options before embarking on this journey.”
“Speak to others in the profession and organisation, consider applying for job shadowing opportunities to see if you are really interested and if it suits you. Be prepared to put in a lot of hard work and keep an open mind throughout your journey of learning and working!”