Why are there so many Irish physios in Singapore?

Working Abroad in Health: Sinéad Folan accepted a job in Asia straight out of college

‘At one stage there were about 40 Irish physio, speech and occupational therapists working in the hospital.’

‘At one stage there were about 40 Irish physio, speech and occupational therapists working in the hospital.’

 

This article forms part of a new series for Irish Times Abroad on the opportunities worldwide for Irish healthcare workers.

Being based in Singapore has enabled Sinéad Folan from Furbo in Galway, to start ticking some of her travel goals off her bucket list. The physiotherapist, who has been working in the city state for nearly four years, is just as grateful for the opportunity to get valuable experience and take on extra training.

What took you to southeast Asia?

When I graduated as a physiotherapist in Ireland in 2012, opportunities were few and far between. There was a five-year embargo in place in the HSE and a lot of experience was needed to get a job in private practice.

While studying at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, I had heard about many Irish physios getting jobs as fresh graduates in Singapore. After a bit of research (including where the country is) I bit the bullet and applied. After a nervewracking phone interview, I was offered a job on Christmas Eve 2012.

At the time, a lot of things appealed to me about Singapore. Since I was young I had longed to live abroad. Singapore gave me the chance not only to do that but to travel around southeast Asia easily and affordably.

Was it difficult to get a work visa?

Unlike the UK, United States and Australia, there was no lengthy and costly process involved in getting registration and visas to work. The combination of a rapidly-aging population and low rates of Singaporeans studying to be healthcare professionals meant the ministry of health is crying out for healthcare professionals. I was offered a three-year contract in a public hospital, which at the time seemed like forever. I packed my bags and left in February 2013.

Did you find it hard to adapt to your environment?

I found everything about the place fascinating: the different cultures, the futuristic nature of the city’s skyline, the continuous 30 degree heat with the odd monsoon shower thrown in.

Initially work was a challenge. I was working with inpatients and a lot of them didn’t speak English. As a new graduate, not only was I learning the ropes of the working world, but I had to do it in another language. It was rare to have a day when all the patients spoke English. In addition, it was a public hospital and the main emphasis was not particularly on the quality of care but on the number of patients treated.

I was not alone, however, at one stage there were about 40 Irish physio, speech and occupational therapists working in the hospital. This made life so much easier. Although the workplace was tough it makes you more adaptable as a person. Getting to pick up some of the local language and do a full treatment session in it was one of highlights.

On the plus side, there was a good supervisory, teaching and continuous education framework in place which as a new graduate made the transition from student smoother and, as the years went by, ensured continuous development as a physiotherapist. By changing rotations every six months, this gave me a taster of all the different areas of physiotherapy and made me realise which ones suited me.

Will you stay in Singapore much longer?

After three years, I decided that while I had furthered my career as much as possible in a public hospital, I was not done with Singapore. I was still enjoying life here and I had a good social circle here so I chose to stay. I had decided that I wanted to work in a private clinic and the opportunities in the private sector here were something that even now are much greater and more secure than at home. The large expatriate community combined with the active lifestyle of Singapore means that clinics are in high demand. This is a completely different setting to the hospital and an experience I am thoroughly enjoying. I never thought that I would still be in this little red dot four years on with no intention of leaving soon.

Did you find it hard to make friends there?

Even though work initially was tough, socially it was the complete opposite. The Irish community here are very close. It helps that there were people who were in the same line of work, of a similar age and also new to Singapore when I came here first. A big thing that helped me settle in here and make friends was the Singapore Gaelic Lions GAA club.

At home, I always had a big interest in Gaelic Football but had never actually played. As the biggest GAA club in Asia, SGL welcomes everyone no matter what country you are from or how little experience with the GAA you have. It truly is more of a family. It has given me lifelong friends and great experiences along the way, from playing in the Asian Gaelic Games as far north as Shanghai to travelling to Darwin for a friendly game.

What else do you like about Asia?

Travelling is another thing which has been a highlight of my life here. As travel is so convenient and cheap, it is something which life here revolves around. You are always looking forward to or planning your next trip. Over the past few years I’ve been to places I had never ever dreamed I would visit. However, I’m not done yet, I still have a few on the bucket list.

Having said all of the above, Ireland will always be home and I do miss everything about it, in particular the distance from family. I intend to relocate back in the not too far future. But for now, I am making the most of this fantastic opportunity and counting my blessings that I have had a chance to experience it.

This article forms part of a new series for Irish Times Abroad on the opportunities worldwide for Irish healthcare workers.

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