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Respiratory Therapist – The Unconventional Team Member In Healthcare

Respiratory Therapy holds deep ­personal meaning for MOHH scholar Yvonne Cheng.

Why did you choose to take on the Healthcare Scholarship?
I am interested in a healthcare career because I love working with people and had ­always been fascinated with the biological/health sciences.  I wanted a career that would allow me to make a positive impact in others’ lives.

A healthcare scholarship offers many benefits and opportunities, besides a meaningful career. It provides the opportunity for holistic development, a consideration that was very important to me. As a scholar, I took part in community-serving trips and leadership development workshops which allowed me to serve others, learn important values in life and pick up new skills. There were internships and engagement seminars which I had greatly benefited from thus far. Lastly, I knew that I would be able to meet others who would share their healthcare knowledge and experience with me. Many of these friends and healthcare professionals are like my family members and I am very thankful for them.

What do you think are your strengths that helped secure your place for the scholarship?
I think that my passion in this field was one of the main reasons.  I believe passion is the key to enjoying what you do in life and to keep yourself motivated. Being sociable and being a cooperative team-player are also important attributes since healthcare professionals work as a team. Honesty, compassion, reliability and conscientiousness are also key factors as a respiratory therapist and are also important attributes that the panel interviewers consider. Some of the questions thrown at me were difficult but I answered them as honestly as I could and tried my best to be sincere.

Why did you choose to take up a degree in respiratory therapy?

The respiratory system is one of the most important systems in our body as we need to breathe to stay alive. I appreciated this fact as I had asthma when I was younger and used to have the fear of dying from an unnoticed asthma attack. In addition, I had a near experience of almost losing my mother from bronchitis that developed as a complication of rheumatoid arthritis several years ago. Therefore, respiratory therapy is a field that holds deep personal meaning. It is a challenging career in some aspects because respiratory therapists have to respond instantly and be capable of thinking on their feet during medical emergencies.

The prospect of working with premature babies and pediatrics also excites me. It is amazing how medical advances have created ventilators and life-support machines that have allowed premature babies and patients to survive. Interestingly, respiratory therapists are present to confront the fragility of life in deaths and also the joy of life when babies are born.

How do you feel the scholarship has helped you and why?
Firstly, the scholarship provided me with more exposure to the field.  I completed an internship with the respiratory therapists in National University Hospital before I started my studies in the University of Missouri. During the short stint, I learnt a lot about what respiratory therapists do in a critical care department on a daily basis and had a better idea of what to expect to learn in school.

Secondly, knowing the fellow respiratory therapists I would work with in the future and being oriented to the work environment may help me accustom to my role more easily when I return to work in NUH. Thirdly, the seminars and engagement talks also allowed me to gain more insights about the healthcare landscape as a whole. Through these activities I have also met friends studying radiography and nursing who shared interesting developments and experiences in their fields.

Besides meeting people, there are wonderful opportunities offered to serve the community. I participated in a volunteer trip to Cambodia where we built bio-sand water filters and taught children hand and oral hygiene. Lastly and most importantly, the scholarship provides a social support system and I am thankful to those who have continually motivated me to work hard.

Describe the role of a respiratory therapist and the challenges that they may face?

Respiratory therapist specialises in providing prescribed care to patients with ­cardiopulmonary problems. They are skilled in the management of life support of patients with advanced airways in a critical care ­setting. They assemble and operate ­mechanical ventilators, therapeutic gas administration devices and aerosol generators.

Respiratory therapists also play an important role as part of the emergency ­resuscitation team in respiratory or cardiac arrest situations. Other areas that they can work in include pulmonary rehabilitation, sleep medicine, home care and research. A big challenge for us is keeping up with the technology that is constantly advancing. Newer equipment is being developed and new protocols are needed. We have to continue to learn about these new technologies and update ourselves about the latest findings in evidence-based medicine that would affect our practice.

What do you look forward to in your future career as a respiratory therapist?
I look forward to a challenging career because respiratory therapists need to be capable of thinking on their feet during a critical emergency. I know I would be working with critically ill patients. Some respiratory therapists have shared their experiences of fulfilling the last wishes of their patients. This is something I hope to do for my patients too. I hope to earn more specialty credentials such as in adult critical care, and continue to grow in knowledge and be equipped with skills to better myself as a professional. I am excited about being a good team player and coping with the changing technology and needs of the industry.

What important values should everyone possess and why?
Humility, empathy, compassion, gratitude, dedication and integrity are ­important values everyone should possess. ‘Modesty is a shining light; it prepares the mind to receive knowledge and the heart for truth’ by Madam Guizot is a quote I believe in. Being humble and modest reminds us that we are not better than anyone else and allows us to continue developing ourselves holistically. I believe that empathy and ­compassion are what calls us to pursue a healthcare profession. At the same time, a person with a grateful heart would be content and happy with what they have. Dedication is key to completing our tasks well. No matter how hard the journey is, dedication ensures that we will try our best till the very end. Lastly, integrity is a value that would allow us to stay true to ourselves and to others around us.

Do you have any words of advice for students who are keen to take up a career in the public healthcare sector?
If you are a sociable person who genuinely enjoys working with people, helping people and are a good team-player, this career will be rewarding. I recommend that you do some job shadowing and talk to professionals in the same field to facilitate decision-making.

On a more personal level, there will definitely be times when you might face life-and-death situations or be deeply concerned about your patients. Do not be afraid to talk to someone who can offer you emotional support if you need to. Our mental health is important too as we are only human after all.

Yvonne Cheng Qi Xuan

Healthcare Merit Award
Formerly known as Health Science Nursing Scholarship
Age: 22
Now: Second year doing Respiratory Therapy in University of Missouri
From: Ngee Ann Polytechnic