Peter Chang: Retired army officer lands second career as Therapy Assistant

Mr Peter Chang, Therapy Assistant (rightmost in NTUC Health corporate tee) has been with us for more than three years.

Mr Peter Chang, 65, did not know what was in store for him when he took on the job of a Therapy Assistant. He had retired from the Singapore Armed Forces in 2015, and had spent about a year after that at home “eating, sleeping and watching television” as he described. Jokingly he shared, “It wasn’t long before my family found me a nuisance at home and asked me to find a job!”

Peter had joined the Singapore Armed Forces when he was 16, and was with them for 43 years before he retired at the age of 60. Achieving the rank of Military Expert 3, or the equivalent of a First Warrant Officer, he interacted with and advised commanders at all levels regarding security matters. The break from work after his long stint was initially welcomed, but it was not long before the days started feeling empty with nothing much to occupy his time.

After retiring at the age of 60, Peter went ahead to pick up new skills and entered the healthcare industry, something completely new to him.

While cleaning his desk one day, Peter came across a newspaper clipping he had cut out earlier but had completely forgotten. It was an advertisement encouraging citizens to apply for the Work Skills Qualifications (WSQ) Higher Certificate in Healthcare Support (Therapy Support), provided by HMI Institute of Health Sciences. He recalled an instance before he retired, when he went for a medical appointment at a hospital and observed therapy assistants at work. At that time, he felt that it was a job he could consider as a second career, but had forgotten all about it until he found the clipping.

With encouragement from his family, Peter proceeded to attend a three-and-a-half month course to prepare himself to become a Therapy Assistant.

Although he went into the course with an open mind, Peter was initially overwhelmed by the many new concepts and medical terms to be learnt, as well as all the classes and tests he had to sit for. Fortunately, he found great classmates who were there to support and encourage each other to complete the course.

Thereafter, Peter began his role at our Nursing Home (Jurong West). This was when Peter first felt the weight of his responsibility as a Therapy Assistant where he had to care for residents with their various medical conditions. It was a steep learning curve for him as he had to put what he had learnt into practice. He was also apprehensive, being a newbie on the job, as he sheepishly admitted, “I was not exactly the best student in class.”

Peter ensures residents are exercised everyday to preserve as much of their functional abilities as possible. This helps them perform more specialised exercises recommended by our physiotherapists. Aside from group and individual exercises, he also supports occupational therapists by conducting cognitive and reminiscence activities for residents such as playing card games, musical instruments and even baking!

Despite the challenging start, Peter found strength in the support and guidance from fellow colleagues, and now confidently takes charge of an entire level of residents at Nursing Home (Chai Chee) by himself. Laughingly, he shared, “I run the level like a military camp, as other than the clinical aspects, the role of motivating and leading them in exercises is not too different from the experiences I had in the army! :)”

Peter does not hesitate to show his disapproval when the residents get lazy and refuse to exercise. Whether in English, Mandarin, dialect or broken Malay, he finds a way to make them aware of the consequences of remaining inactive. Despite the “tough love”, the residents appreciate his sincerity and many look forward to exercising with him.

Having been with NTUC Health for more than 3 years, Peter confides that he has grown rather attached to his residents and finds great meaning in his work. He shared a story of a resident, who after being bedbound for three years, managed to walk after much rehabilitation. Peter was very glad that he was able to be a part of the team who helped the resident get back on his feet. It also encouraged him that he was able to contribute significantly to the lives of his residents.

When asked if age has hindered him in any way in carrying out his work, Peter disagrees, saying:

“I feel that because of my army background, I remain fit and alert to take on any new challenges and do not differ from my younger colleagues. Age is not a barrier as long as you are willing to put in the effort.”