“Hey, how would you like to take some time off work to learn something new?”
This was offered to me by my editor in the middle of a particularly busy week, which made it even more appealing.
Since I’m a really big fan of lifelong learning, I decided to take up her generous offer.
This was how I ended up standing outside a classroom within the HMI Institute at 9am on a Wednesday.
My goal for the day? Join a class for aspiring therapy assistants, and try not to do anything too stupid.
I felt like I was in school again
When I first entered the classroom, the first thing that struck me were the trainees: there were only around 15 trainees, most of which appeared to be between the ages of 40 to 60.
The scene was similar to what one would expect in a university or polytechnic setting, and makes me feel like I was in school again.
There were a few pockets of trainees in each corner of the classroom, chatting to each other while enjoying a quick breakfast.
I spied a few of them poring over their notes and consulting each other on things they did not understand.
I found out later that the course I was attending has a blended learning structure, meaning that trainees attend a mix of online Zoom classes for course content, and physical lessons to consolidate their knowledge and to apply the skills they have learnt in a practical setting.
Everyone was clamouring to speak up
The instructor, Phyllis, entered the classroom soon after I arrived, and the trainees settled down quickly.
She did a quick revision with the class, quizzing them on the content they’ve learnt yesterday.
Trainees in the therapy assistant course at HMI Institute learn a variety of different things.
For example, they will learn how to read vital signs, how to deal with a patient’s needs (both physically and mentally), how to respond to any medical emergencies, among many others.
Trainees utilising patient hoist to assist in transferring patients safely from one place to another. Image via HMI Institute.
This is quite an intensive course too.
I was shocked to learn that lessons begin at 9am, and typically only ended in the evening — this is longer than most of the school days I had in university (and back then, I recall feeling perpetually tired).
As I observed my fellow classmates, I was surprised to see that their hands shot up into the air every time she asked a question.
Some were so eager to respond that they would shout the answer out loud in class, and it was heartening to see the proud looks on their faces when they got it correct.
And while I was quietly trying to hide my lack of knowledge, which sometimes got a bit technical, this was not the strategy employed by everyone else.
It appeared that nobody was shy to either ask or answer questions, which was very different from what I was accustomed to seeing in university.
After all, when I was still studying, it wasn’t uncommon for the teacher to ask a question, just for the whole class to remain silent.
While we may have been too embarrassed to speak up in class, perhaps due to the fear of getting the answer wrong, I saw no such apprehension in this class.
Healthcare support workers are equally important
We soon got into the practical portion of the class, which involved learning how to use a machine to measure one’s blood pressure and heart rate.
While I’ve been hooked onto one of these machines multiple times in my life, I realised I’ve no idea how to operate one now that the tables are turned.
As I fumbled helplessly with one of the machines, one of the trainees, 39-year-old Bernard Yeo, kindly helped me.
Eh, this one needs to be higher la. Image via HMI Institute.
Yeo was previously working in the construction and engineering industry for the last 15 years, making this therapy assistant course completely different from the work he’s used to doing.
In November 2019, Yeo’s company ceased operations, prompting him to take a short break while looking for new opportunities.
During his search, Yeo’s wife reignited his childhood interest in healthcare, and recommended him to join the course in HMI Institute.
Yeo also noted that the healthcare and community care sector is likely to require more manpower in the near future, especially due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
He also told me that therapy assistants may not receive as much recognition as the frontline medical workers, but are equally vital to the healthcare system.
“A lot of people just think that Covid-19 is all about the frontline people: the nurses and the doctors. But there’s also people at the back that take care of recovering patients. A lot of them have respiratory issues, a lot of them still need to go through therapy. And they need people like us,” said Yeo.
Therapy is more than just exercise
At this point, perhaps sensing my incompetence (I was still fiddling with the machine), Yeo switched places with me, and swiftly demonstrated how to operate it properly.
During this time, he shared with me his inspiration for wanting to become a therapist.
He told me that when he was serving his National Service (NS), he injured his lower spine during a training exercise in Brunei.
He said that he had to undergo therapy, which made him see the positive effects of rehabilitation, and the importance of a good therapist.
During his time in the construction industry, Yeo also saw the negative effects of not adhering to therapy after receiving an injury.
He said that many of his workers do not take therapy seriously after being injured, and many do the required exercises half-heartedly.
Yeo emphasised the importance of being a therapist who can communicate well with patients, ensuring that they follow up with their therapy regularly.
“It needs to come across to them as something more than just exercise, or a one-time session”, said Yeo.
Do you exercise regularly? *feeble laughter* Image via HMI Institute.
The transition from work to study was not difficult
As I spoke to Yeo, I was amazed at how he managed to fit right into his role as a therapy assistant trainee, despite having not studied for so many years.
He said that the transition from managing a team of workers to studying was not a difficult task, since it was all about mindset.
In fact, he said he was really excited on his first day, likening it to attending the first day of school.
Yeo also said that since the course is very practical in nature, the trainees are able to understand concepts more easily, despite their more advanced age.
And what of his classmates?
According to Yeo, they all attended the course with “a sense of purpose”, which explains the enthusiasm I witnessed in the class.
After a brief coffee break, the class returned with even more rigour, which is really surprising considering how we have been at this for almost two hours already.
“They don’t know, they will ask each other. So this is how we learn here. Even if it’s wrong, I think they will also correct each other in a positive way. Not like kids in a primary school,” said Yeo as he practices taking the temperature for one of his coursemates.
A bit hot. Must be the coffee. Image via Jason Fan.
While I was already quite tired (systolic? diastolic? what do these numbers even mean?), the rest of the class seemed to be raring to go.
Having a positive attitude is key to any difficult situation
I left the session with a new-found respect for anyone willing to get out of their comfort zone, and try something completely new.
I learnt from Yeo that having a positive attitude is the most important step in tackling any difficult situation.
Although he downplayed the difficulties he faced at times (Yeo was consistently the liveliest person in the class), I could tell that making such a decision certainly wasn’t easy for him.
Still, his optimism really shone throughout the class, as I observed him asking the instructor yet another question (“eh, does alcohol affect your body temperature?”).
This therapy assistant course is conducted by HMI Institute, and is part of the SGUnited Skills Programme.
Through this programme, jobseekers can acquire relevant skills to gain better employment opportunities, and even receive a training allowance during the duration of the course.
Course fees can also be offset using SkillsFuture Credit.
According to Yeo, the best aspect of the programme is how it allows him to branch out into different fields of work.
“If you’re working out there, it’s always better to be a multi-tooled Swiss army knife, than to be a single blade”.
Top image via HMI Institute.
This sponsored article made the writer realise that it’s never too late to start learning new things.