Brenda Soh Rui Qi helps patients with swallowing disorders in her role as a Speech Therapist at Woodlands Health Campus. She is a Healthcare Merit Award recipient, and holds a bachelor’s degree in Speech Therapy from Manchester Metropolitan University.
Given its nomenclature, most would probably assume that a Speech Therapist is somebody who helps people with their speech and language skills. What may come as a surprise, though, is that a Speech Therapist also rehabilitates patients who have problems swallowing after an ailment or injury. Or in medical terms, dysphagia.
Imagine not being able to swallow comfortably – it would mean missing out on so much of the joy of eating a good meal or gulping down a favourite drink!
This is what makes Speech Therapists like Brenda Soh Rui Qi indispensable to her patients and their caregivers. The 25-year-old is an integral member of the rehab team at Woodlands Health Campus, which is part of the National Healthcare Group.
Brenda, a recipient of the Healthcare Merit Award, let us in on the lesser-known aspects of being a Speech Therapist, and the things that keep her motivated at work.
Why speech therapy?
My first exposure to the profession was when I heard about my sister’s experience with speech therapy. As my sister has Autism Spectrum Disorder and received speech therapy from Society for the Physically Disabled when she was about 10, my mother briefly explained to me what happens in speech therapy after the sessions. I had more exposure when I did part-time work at a special school where I had the opportunity to observe and work with the Speech Therapists there.
Tell us more about your current role and responsibilities.
I am currently in the Geriatrics team, mainly working with older adults aged above 78 years old.
My primary role is to assess the swallowing function of these individuals who are admitted due to an acute medical event, and then recommend the safest diet and fluid consistencies that these patients can tolerate with their swallowing status at that period of time. If this is different from their original diet and fluid consistencies, I assess their potential to be upgraded to their “normal” diet and fluids, and provide exercises or strategies to help them achieve this “normal”.
I also assess communication function and provide therapy, communication strategies and aids for those who may need it.
Looks like there is a lot more to speech therapy than helping people speak better. Can you tell us more about the rehab aspect of speech therapy?
Indeed. A huge unknown part of our work is the dysphagia aspect. Many times, people give me a confused look when I introduce myself and my role to patients and their families. I usually introduce myself as a “Speech and Swallow” therapist to help minimise confusion.
Rehab in speech therapy is multi-fold but in my daily work, there are three main areas: swallowing, speech and language. The aims of rehab are to either help our patients return to what their “normal” was before an acute medical event like a stroke, or to reach a status where their function is able to meet their needs. This can mean engaging our patients in swallowing exercises, tongue and lip exercises, speech drills, or language training tasks to help them re-learn all these skills that they might have lost.
There is also the aspect of maintenance rehab where we aim to engage patients in similar exercises or training tasks to maintain the function rather than for improvement. This is usually done for patients who have a progressive condition that worsens over time, for instance Parkinson’s, Dementia, and Motor Neuron Diseases.
Is there a patient whom you worked on who was particularly memorable?
There was this patient under palliative care whom I worked with during my rotation at Yishun Community Hospital. He had end-stage lung cancer that had spread to his bones and had never seen a Speech Therapist before. The most memorable part was that, unlike most of our patients who hated a modified diet or fluids, he was happy to be prescribed thicker fluids because he appreciated the comfort of being able to swallow without choking on every sip.
His swallowing and speech function went through a sharp decline as his condition progressed and he passed on eventually. However, my memories with him and his family, and their appreciation of our work continue to fill my heart. I felt that our work was really validated by them.
What possibilities are there for people working as a Speech Therapist in Singapore’s healthcare sector?
Working in the public healthcare sector allows you to experience working with a variety of different client groups which require different specialisations. For instance, you can work with people who have just had a stroke, older adults with typical geriatric issues, or more complex cases like those who have head and neck cancer.
We are also frequently sent for training and conferences so that our skills are continually refreshed and developed. There is a huge range of possibilities for development as a therapist.
In terms of career progression, we also have options for more specialised roles within the department, such as education and training, research, or more administrative roles; although these would usually come when enough experience is gained and the therapist is more senior.
What advice would you give to people who are looking to join you in your profession?
We will welcome you with open arms.
If you are looking to work in a hospital setting, brave your heart as you may see and experience things that will push you out of your comfort zone. However, the fulfilment you receive at the end of the day will make everything worth it!
Brenda indulges in Waacking, a genre of dance that is flamboyant, showy, and focuses on strong arm movements with stretched but flexible lines.