Like many of us, Jesline Leong has gone through various phases in her professional life. The Senior Occupational Therapy Assistant at Bright Vision Hospital (BVH) has been doing what she loves now for almost a decade and she has recently won the Healthcare Humanity Awards 2019 to prove it! But if time was turned back to when she first started her career, she would have never guessed where she'd be today.
Fresh out of school and unsure of what the first step in her career should be, Jesline was quick to seize one of the first opportunities that landed in her lap – the head office at her sister's workplace was looking to hire an accounts clerk and having studied accountancy modules in school, Jesline applied for the job and got hired soon after.
This lucky break indeed proved to be so, because she ended up staying in the job for eleven years, being promoted during that time to accounts assistant, handling multiple facets of accountancy and finance. "Frankly, there were many unenjoyable times, but being able to meet with new people frequently and learn from them made it rewarding!" she laughs when asked if she enjoyed her years in accountancy.
Then along came children, and Jesline decided that she would take the big leap from the big, busy corporate world to being a stay-at-home mum.
"At the time, my kids were in and out of hospital often because they were always catching viruses at their childcare centre, so I thought being at home to care for them would be a better arrangement," she explains what triggered her to consider the jump. The decision wasn't an easy one to make – her corporate job had been stable and paying well, and there would be added pressure on her husband as sole breadwinner of the family if she were to leave the job. To both Jesline and her husband though, the children took priority, and so Jesline made the hard decision.
When it came to adjusting from a fast-paced corporate job to being a stay-at-home mum, Jesline is quick to explain, "The adjustment was so difficult! Once the kids were off to school and the grocery shopping was done, I found myself almost just staring at the walls for the rest of the day, just waiting for the kids to come back from school. It took a long time for me to get used to my new lifestyle."
Still, Jesline remained a stay-at-home mum for six years, because it was obvious to her that she had made the right decision at the time, "I don't regret it at all. The time I got to spend watching my children grow and hit the various milestones in their early years brought me so much joy. These are times that could not have been relived if I had missed them."
Having in mind that she would want to return to the workforce when her children reached their secondary school years, Jesline started to consider the jobs and type of work she wanted to pursue. Passionate about the arts and even attending art courses after her 'O' levels, she contemplated a career in that industry. Unexpectedly, a completely different opportunity presented itself once again in the form of an advertisement in the newspaper for a three and a half month training course for therapy assistants.
While it had never been something she had intended on doing, the thought of trying something new in a different industry from her previous work was enough of a temptation, so she and her husband decided it was worth a shot. After meeting all requirements, successfully completing the course and being rotated between departments and institutions for four years, she then applied for a position in BVH, and the rest, as they say, is history.
While this new chapter excited her, she worried most about the challenge of managing patients and how she would be able to connect with and create rapport with them. She also wondered if she could handle caregivers and family members, as well as the general fast-paced nature of the job, "I would say I only overcame these challenges from learning on the job, building experience over time, and by asking questions!"
When I ask her what it is like to be serving in palliative care, she says, "When I was first transferred here, the thought of palliative care was so daunting, but my supervisor encouraged me and explained that it is an honour and privilege to be able to serve and care for patients nearing the end of their lives. This is something I still hold close to my heart today."
She recounted on some testing times at BVH – of the patience it took over a span of weeks to convince a patient to get out of bed even for a little while to explore the hospital to get some exercise in, of the perseverance it required to react calmly and gently to a patient who was verbally abusive and hostile for months, and of the strength it still takes in dealing with patient deaths.
Coping with the loss of their patients is a difficult thing for many staff, and Jesline says that the best way she has found to deal with that grief is through some sort of self-care. Wanting to share this with her colleagues, she then started a programme within BVH which incorporates her current passion to serve, as well as an older passion – art, especially painting. Every two months, Jesline organises and leads art therapy sessions for staff, encouraging them to express themselves and any emotions they might be struggling to deal with through paint and various other mediums. "Whatever is said is kept within those four walls, paintings are never criticised, and the attendees are never asked to share the stories behind their paintings, unless they are willing to," she explains.
Jesline has a passion for painting. These are just some samples of her work.
It has been nine years since Jesline first became a therapy assistant (she spent four years doing rotations within different departments and is now on her sixth year in palliative care), and she has never once looked back. Calling that advertisement in the newspapers so many years ago a blessing in disguise, she owes her success to the rapport she has built with patients and staff alike, "When the rapport is strong, trust is built, and they know that you care sincerely for them. This puts them at ease and gives them a sense of safety and security while they are under our care, and this allows us to build personal relationships as well," she smiles.
This story was adapted with the help of the SingHealth Community Hospitals (SCH) Comms Team. Find out more about SCH at their Facebook page!
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