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Speech Therapy – More than just a job

Yip Hui Ming’s curiosity about the healthcare sector was first piqued when she joined as a member of the St John Ambulance Brigade during her secondary school days. She also found the field of communications intriguing – although it is something that we engage in every day, executing it effectively may not be as simple as it seems.

Having found passion in both areas of healthcare and communications, Hui Ming is living out her dream today, as a speech therapist at Bright Vision Hospital (BVH).

Hui Ming (third girl from the left, in the back row holding up a balloon) and her schoolmates from St John Ambulance

Challenge accepted

Hui Ming’s job involves caring for patients who experience swallowing difficulties or suffer from communication disorders as a result of their medical conditions. She would guide them in their swallowing process, modify their diet, as well as educate their caregivers to help them better understand their loved ones and to adapt their communication methods if needed.

However no job comes easy. Hui Ming would often hit a road block in her own communication with her patients, whenever she had to provide therapy in an unfamiliar language or dialect.

"Most of the older generation can only speak in dialect such as Hokkien, Cantonese or Hakka. Sometimes, my patients even end up laughing at me when I struggle to keep up with their conversation,” she shared. Fortunately, the speech therapists at BVH are a diverse group who are proficient in various languages, and Hui Ming is able to fall back on her colleagues when she needs help.

Despite having her fair share of troubled times and burnout in her journey, Hui Ming remains positive, “I’m grateful to be working in a community healthcare setting where I get more opportunities to build closer relationships with patients and their family members.”

Hui Ming at work in BVH

A fond memory

Although Hui Ming has met with many patients in the course of her work, she recalls one of them especially well. He was an elderly man who had severe apraxia1 after suffering from a stroke, and he was also Hui Ming’s first apraxic patient.

“An apraxic knows the words he wants to say but it would usually come out differently, as if he has lost control of his mouth,” Hui Ming explained. After his stroke, the only word that the elderly patient could utter was ‘dang'.

“I believed he would have felt frustrated with himself at times due to his speech impairment. Yet, he was always smiling and remained motivated during our therapy sessions,” she continued.

After weeks of practice, the patient was finally able to utter 好, hăo (which means ‘okay’ or ‘I am fine’ in Mandarin), then later on 好吃, hǎo chī (which means delicious) and 很好, hěn hǎo (which means very good).

“It was such a huge moment for him that he kept proudly repeating these words to everyone who passed by his bed! I felt like a mother who was hearing her firstborn say ‘mama’ for the first time,” Hui Ming shared excitedly.

The learning never stops

Hui Ming feels a great sense of satisfaction whenever she sees her patients’ conditions improve over time. But when they do not respond well to treatment, she will reflect and make the necessary adjustments to their rehabilitation plans.

She also encourages speech therapists who have just started out in their career, to forge close friendships with fellow colleagues at work, as there is much to learn from fellow therapists, as well as those from different healthcare professions.

“You may be surprised to hear that some caregivers also know more than us about patients’ communication methods and have already developed some communication strategies of their own unknowingly, as they spend a lot more time with the patients. So sometimes, we can learn from them too,” said Hui Ming.

1 A motor speech disorder which causes speaking difficulties due to a breakdown in the brain’s coordination of muscle movements.