My Day at a Singapore Physio School

During my recent travel to Singapore, I was fortunate enough to connect with a physiotherapy school and be able to visit.

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How did this connection happen, you ask? Well, I am just one big ole Instagram creep who looked up hashtags and found them. Yes, it is true. I knew I wanted to visit a few countries again in Southeast Asia, but this time, instead of doing only fun travel things like I did in Thailand and Bali (which were awesome), I wanted to have fun but also travel with a purpose (and a budget..because, loans, duh).

After connecting on Instagram with a student at Singapore Institute of Technology, he forwarded me along to one of the professors at the campus. As my plans were finalized, we had continued emailing in prep for my visit! On October 26th, despite the fact that Dr. Benjamin Soon, PhD (the professor who I met with) was waiting for his wife to give birth, he STILL met with me — seriously, how cool and nice!?

Ben prepared a whole presentation for me on what they do at SIT (Singapore Institute of Technology). All in all, the curriculum was very similar as compared to the US. SIT has classes in trimesters, along with over 30 (it might actually be 40, but my brain forgot) weeks of clinicals in the end of their program. The courses were all very similar, ranging from the general musculoskeletal, neuroanatomy, kinesiology, up until they took a few electives in their later years as well as a health promotion type of class that focuses on global health.

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Because Singapore is a small country, and there are only a few colleges (I believe 6 is what he told me). They rely greatly on other countries to help teach. I found this pretty awesome, as it allows students to obtain a more worldly perspective on the profession. The sister school they work with is in Ireland, and they have professors fly in from Hong Kong, England, and other countries to help teach courses. Healthcare and Physical Therapy can be so different in each country – it’s pretty amazing that they have the chance to understand it from multiple views, all while learning the basics that we all need to know to thrive as a physical therapist.

What I felt was interesting is that, like many other countries outside of the US, there is no undergraduate degree. It is instead a straight 3 years of PT school. Many will begin school right after high school (junior college for them) and continue on, finishing up their schooling in a few years. In Singapore, it is actually a requirement that men serve 2 years in the military following high school (something I didn’t know), so they may end up getting a slightly later start on college than their female counterparts.

We discussed different healthcare perspectives – different types of insurances, Medicare, repayment/reimbursement systems, and the overall similarities and differences in our profession in our respective countries.

When it comes to payment for services, he stated that when a patient visits the clinic, they are charged a fairly standard fee, all of which goes back to the clinic. To me, this is very similar to a cash-based physical therapy practice in the US.

While there is a basic standard “insurance” kind of thing (hard for me to explain) in Singapore, there are also those who may voluntarily pay more – since they either make more or have opted into having additional insurance. To better explain, I will give the example Ben shared. If I go to the hospital to have a procedure done, but I don’t have great insurance or have to rely on the basic/governmental support, I may go into a room that I will share. The luxury of my stay will be less and maybe I won’t have a TV or I will have a snoring neighbor, but the quality of my procedure and the access to the healthcare will all be the same. Now if I make more money and I want to pay a little extra, or I have better healthcare, I can pay a little extra and have a private room – yet again, still have the same care. If that makes sense?

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When we took a tour of the facility, I was very impressed by the space and equipment the school had. They even had an Anatomage table, which I had never heard of before, and honestly, now I want one in my living room – ha! The downfall that we talked about was, since there are so few colleges in the area, this class had many students (up to 100). It lacked the intimacy and the ability at times to really see up close what was being presented (manual techniques, etc). They did have larger TVs for those people in the back to see, but this could certainly be a difficult learning environment.

As the program is still growing and just beginning, Ben discussed different connections with the local hospitals and the networking between facilities that occurs – very similarly to how we may network with clinics and hospitals for our clinical placements as well as using cadavers, etc.

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One last thing that I found super interesting was the use of Chiropractors in Singapore. Per Ben, chiropractors are not commonly used at all. He stated that physical therapists are respected much more in their country. While chiropractors are trying to make a name for themselves, they don’t even have an association there, therefore it is difficult for them to progress. It’s interesting how large of a role the legal and lobbying aspect can play when it comes to the popularity of a profession.

Ben also informed me that in some countries in Europe, cervical traction (for all professions) is banned – crazy, right!? He said it is hardly used in Singapore anymore because of this. Maybe this could also be an influencer in the willingness of someone to visit a chiropractor?? It really makes you wonder what we, in the US, are doing right vs wrong when it comes to educating the public. Not putting down chiropractors-as they are good for certain things- but what is it that we need to do as a profession, as the APTA, as all of us practicing clinicians to differentiate ourselves and educate the public on the differences between us and chiropractors…? (*food for thought*)

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While there are pros and cons to every PT program – I thoroughly enjoyed having this opportunity to see another country’s approach to our profession. Although the global approach is more of a necessity for them in order to have enough professors to teach all of the courses, I feel as though this gives them an entirely different type of education. And while it is only a 3 year program – I am sure they are in much less debt after 3 years than I am now after 6. Granted, they also make less when they start just out of school. Just some things to consider!

My tour and trip to SIT was so cool and I will be forever grateful. Thank you SIT for having me!

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Did you check out my experience at a Japanese Day Rehab, yet? See yet another approach to our amazing profession!

Until next time,

Jen

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