Thursday 12 February 2015

Occupational therapists in demand in greyer Singapore

Good prospects, competitive pay drawing more to the profession
By Kash Cheong And Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 11 Feb 2015

A TYPICAL day for Ms Natalie Chew, 39, might see her helping someone with a broken arm to feed himself or teaching a stroke patient how to put on his shirt with one hand.

The occupational therapist also visits patients' homes to recommend how to place furniture safely or install grab bars to prevent falls.

"We help patients cope with daily life as they recover from illness or accidents. We help them regain independence," said Ms Chew, senior principal occupational therapist at the Singapore General Hospital.

In greying Singapore, such professionals are much needed, and demand is set to increase.

But thanks to greater awareness, extensive recruitment efforts and competitive pay, occupational therapy in the public sector is not facing a serious manpower crunch here, unlike many other jobs. Current annual starting salary, including bonuses and allowances, is about $40,000, 10 per cent higher than in 2012.

The work has also become more exciting, with opportunities for specialisation and research growing in areas such as low vision and mental health, and the chance of overseas training.

Last year, there were 423 full- and part-time occupational therapists in the public sector registered with the Allied Health Professions Council (AHPC), a national body.

In 2013, the sector hired an equivalent of 327 full-time occupational therapists, according to the latest figures available from the Health Ministry. This is a jump of two-thirds compared with five years earlier.

Having more such professionals translates to more time and care for each patient, said Ms Chew, who has 16 years of experience. She said she sees eight to 12 people a day now, down from 15 about five years ago.

She and her SGH colleagues could even start cooking groups for patients to help them become confident in the kitchen again.

At the National University Hospital, the occupational therapy team can now do home visits up to 10 times a week, compared with just two or three visits every few months five years ago, said senior principal occupational therapist, Ms Tan Lay Lay, in her 40s.

The head of Tan Tock Seng Hospital's occupational therapy department, Ms Florence Cheong, 39, said since 2009, its therapists have even fanned out into the community, where they assess home safety of the elderly who are not in their care.

The job is set to get more popular, with a local four-year degree programme to be launched next year. Those in the profession are also hoping for a local master's course to cater to people who are balancing family and career.

While it may not be a cushy job, veterans say that helping patients is the best reward.

Said Ms Chew: "When a patient regains some independence and says 'thank you', you know you have made a difference."

Harder to fill other allied health posts
By Kash Cheong, The Straits Times, 11 Feb 2015

HEALTH institutions are also ramping up numbers for other allied health professionals, such as physiotherapists, radiographers and optometrists.

There are some 4,000 allied health professionals in the public sector, with the figure rising 10 per cent annually for the last five years, the Health Ministry said. Four in five vacancies are filled by locals.

While there has been an encouraging increase in occupational therapists, some institutions find other jobs harder to fill due to lower awareness. This includes prosthetists, who measure and create prostheses to replace missing body parts; audiologists, who help diagnose and manage hearing problems; and optometrists, who help diagnose and treat eye diseases.

Occupational therapy a fulfilling career

THE report on Feb 11 ("Occupational therapists in demand in greyer S'pore") is much appreciated. It created more awareness about the profession, and accurately portrayed occupational therapy as a rewarding career and the value it brings to the health care of Singaporeans, especially in view of the ageing population.

We noted that the occupational therapists featured in the report are from restructured hospitals and would like to highlight that Singapore still faces a shortage of occupational therapists.

From the Allied Health Professions Council report on mass registration for 2013/2014, Singapore has 831 registered occupational therapists as at April 17 last year.

With a population of 5.47 million as at the middle of last year, there is a ratio of one occupational therapist to every 6,582 people.

Comparatively, Hong Kong has 1,580 occupational therapists and a ratio of one occupational therapist to every 4,569 people.

The shortage of occupational therapists in Singapore is more apparent in the community sector, such as nursing homes, home-based community services for the elderly and community services for adults as well as children with disabilities.

According to the Allied Health Professions Council, there were only 269 occupational therapists working in the community sector (community hospitals and voluntary welfare organisations) last year.

According to SG Enable, a government-established agency which provides services for the disabled, there are approximately 100,000 people with disabilities in Singapore and 12 per cent (approximately 400,000) are directly affected by disability.

This includes caregivers of persons with disabilities, whom occupational therapists often work closely with to enable them to care for their loved ones.

Occupational therapists play a vital role in helping people with disabilities integrate into the community and resume the activities that they used to do.

We hope to reach out to young people seeking a fulfilling career in the health-care sector to come forward and consider occupational therapy as a viable lifelong career.

Florence Cheong (Ms)
Lim Chun Yi (Ms)
Singapore Association of Occupational Therapists
ST Forum, 23 Feb 2015

More young, skilled individuals opting to be allied health professionals: NHG
Channel NewsAsia, 17 Feb 2015

The number of younger, more qualified workers joining the healthcare industry as allied health professionals in increasing, according to the National Healthcare Group (NHG).

The number of allied health professionals aged 24 years and below form about 12 per cent of NHG's 2,000-strong pool - a significant increase from 2010, when only 1 per cent were under 25. The number of degree holders also increased by 31 per cent, while diploma holders spiked 66 per cent from 2010 to 2014, the healthcare provider said in its press release on Tuesday (Feb 17).

Allied health professionals refer to healthcare experts who specialise in various fields including physiotherapy, oral health therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, radiography and dietetics.


Ms Susan Niam, Chairperson of Allied Health Services and Pharmacy at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, said the scope of work these allied health professionals has had to evolve to meet the changing needs and demographics of its patients.

"From previously providing physical rehabilitation or treatment, these professionals now also play the role of 'life coaches' - motivating and empowering patients physically, psychosocially and emotionally, while helping them to lead meaningful lives," Ms Niam said.

The NHG said greater awareness and comprehensive training programmes have attracted younger professionals to join the allied health sector. Scholarships are also available for these allied health professionals to pursue their degree, Master's or even PhD's at local or overseas universities, it added.

"We believe that more young people view the allied health profession as a rewarding and challenging career that provides good growth prospects," said NHG Group Chief Human Resources Officer Olivia Tay said.

More are becoming allied health professionals, but what do they really do?
TODAY, 17 Feb 2015

More higher qualified and younger individuals are becoming allied health professionals (AHPs) today compared to five years ago. They are part of the care team who manage patients, but what do AHPs really do? Here’s a low-down on a few of the professions in public healthcare:


Dietitians maintain and promote the health of individuals, groups, and the community by applying the art and science of food and human nutrition. Their responsibilities include:
- Perform nutritional assessment to determine the nutritional status and diagnosis
- Develop and provide customised medical nutrition therapy and individualised nutrition care plan
- Provide dietary counselling and nutrition support to individuals
- Plan and implement nutrition programmes and policies
- Communicate evidence-based information on nutrition and disease to the community
- Provide consultation to food service providers


Diagnostic radiographers work with sophisticated medical imaging equipment to produce radiographic images of the body that are essential to the healthcare team in the diagnosis of illnesses and injuries.

Apart from using X-ray equipment, diagnostic radiographers also utilise a wide range of cutting-edge technologies, matched with advanced computer hardware and software to process data and perform complex multi-planar and three-dimensional reconstructions. These radiological examinations include:
- Computerised Tomography (CT)
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
- Ultrasound


Medical social workers attend to patients and families who experience challenges in coping with and managing emotional, psychological, social, environmental and practical issues arising from illness or the sudden onset of traumatic injuries.

Together with the multidisciplinary team, community partners and organisations, medical social workers aim to facilitate the recovery and healing process; optimise the well-being of individuals; and enhance family functioning and community reintegration.


Occupational therapists develop and maintain a person’s capacity to perform day-to-day tasks and roles essential to productive living. This requires them to design treatment programmes for those with physical disabilities, mental or social problems either from birth or as the result of accident, illness or ageing. Their work involves:
- Enhancing physical and psychological functions
- Preventing illnesses
- Facilitating independent living.
- Improving quality of life of people with disabilities or special needs
- Promoting reintegration into home, work and society


Physiotherapists help individuals to develop, maintain and restore maximum movement and functional ability throughout their lifetime. Their range of expertise includes providing services in cases where human movement and function are threatened by ageing, injury, diseases, disorders, conditions or environmental factors.

To achieve agreed goals, intervention and treatment may be in the areas of:
- Therapeutic exercise
- Functional training in self-care
- Manual therapy techniques (including mobilisation/manipulation)
- Prescription and application of assistive devices and equipment
- Airway clearance techniques
- Electrotherapeutic modalities
- Patient-related instruction
- Home management
- Work, community and leisure
- Promotion and maintenance of health and fitness


Speech Therapists facilitate the rehabilitation of patients suffering from communication disorders that can arise as a result of trauma, stroke and other degenerative ailments. Through the treatment process, they enable patients to regain independence with daily activities and improve their quality of life.

Speech Therapists diagnose and provide treatments for children and adults suffering from conditions such as:
- Speech and language autism
- Swallowing difficulties
- Feeding difficulties
- Hearing impairment


Podiatrists improve the overall health and well-being of patients through the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of conditions associated with the feet and lower limbs, such as:
- Ingrown toenails
- Skin and nail disorders
- Foot injuries and deformities
- Diabetic foot conditions
- Corns and calluses
They also work with the healthcare team to diagnose, monitor and treat foot conditions of patients with bone and joint disorders such as arthritis, neurological and circulatory diseases and diabetes.


Respiratory Therapists work with patients suffering from either acute or chronic respiratory problems. They engage closely with doctors to plan, integrate and evaluate cardiac and pulmonary care in order to provide relief to patients, from premature infants with underdeveloped lungs to elderly folks.

Some of the intervention and therapeutic methods provided by Respiratory Therapists may include:
- Administration of oxygen and CPR
- Management of mechanical ventilators
- Monitoring of cardiopulmonary systems
- Measuring lung function of patients


Medical technologists receive and process patient specimens, and use various techniques and laboratory analysers to perform a wide variety of diagnostic tests on patient specimens to help clinicians diagnose and treat diseases, and monitor therapy. The results of these diagnostic tests are checked for accuracy and any unusual results are investigated by the medical technologists before being released to the clinicians. Medical technologists participate in quality assurance and quality control programmes to ensure accurate laboratory testing necessary for quality patient care.


A Prosthetist is clinically responsible for assessing, manufacturing and fitting various types of upper and lower limb prostheses (artificial limbs). Prosthetists also provide education and training regarding the use, care and function of prostheses.

All limb prostheses are made to precision and individually designed to restore the function and appearance of the lost limb as much as possible. Prosthetists assist individuals such as children born with congenital limb deficiency, those who have had an amputation following an accident or the elderly who have lost a limb as a result of vascular disease.


Trained to observe and understand human behaviour, psychologists focus on helping people rebuild their emotional well-being. Psychologists use psychotherapy to help people with a wide array of psychological conditions, which can range from depression and anxiety disorders to chronic medical conditions that interfere with their lives. Psychologists guide individuals in learning to cope with major life stresses such as a new job, or the death of loved ones, and are also trained to conduct psychological tests and assessments that can help diagnose a condition or discover more about the way a person thinks, feels, and behaves.


Optometrists are eye care practitioners who provide a wide range of primary eye care services, including visual examinations and prescription of optical appliances to correct vision problems. Optometrists also diagnose vision problems and eye diseases and will refer patients to an ophthalmologist for further treatment where necessary.

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