Specialist skills and knowledge may embellish a CV, but after graduation many degree holders are still unsure which professional path they should take. Fortunately for healthcare professionals the field offers both professional and personal satisfaction. Raymond Lee is a case in point.
Less than 10 years ago, Mr Lee was one of the many young graduates eager to gain a foothold in society as a professional. Equipped with a bachelor of science degree in speech and hearing sciences from the University of Hong Kong, Mr Lee initially became a speech therapist at the Tuen Mun Hospital outpatient unit. He then shifted gear and decided to focus on supporting young children with special needs at the Education Bureau (formerly known as the Education and Manpower Bureau).
"Every day, I treated a substantial number of both adults and young children suffering from differing degrees of autism and Asperger's syndrome. Each individual had a unique impairment and specific problems with social interaction and communication," he says. "Our job was to arrange appropriate therapies to help each person develop the ability to speak."
His early dedication subsequently paid off when he was given the responsibility to set up the Speech Therapy Centre at Tseung Kwan O Hospital in 1999.
Following this, five years ago Mr Lee drew on his exposure and experience in the industry and opened his first therapy centre NEW PAGE Learning & Development Consultants.
Monetary return, he notes, was not the main concern. "I didn't have much of a business plan at first. My previous work experience in the public healthcare system taught me I had to cut down caseload and shorten the queuing time in order to give my patients the attention they deserve and get to the root of their problems," he remarks. "Patients need to see progress and it is also a speech therapist's fundamental goal to see speech improvements."
"Whatever skills you possess, you need a passionate heart"
Setting up the private practice was an interesting process, Mr Lee says, from the initial set up, developing a work system, sending out flyers and newsletters to schools and doctors, to receiving the first patients and the ensuing referrals.
Holding a prominent position in the field coupled with the increasing volume of cases encouraged Mr Lee to recruit a number of like-minded professional therapists to join his practice.
The centre now comprises six speech therapists and an occupational therapist, all equipped with additional qualifications and extensive experience in various fields, offering a comprehensive range of services to individuals, social groups and corporations in areas such as speech and occupational therapies, autism and dyslexia management, counselling and cognitive training. An "accelerated learning programme using a holistic approach" has also been recently developed to better care for children's all-round development needs.
"All my colleagues are sincere professionals who want to make a contribution to society. This is the most important attribute of a speech therapist. Whatever skills you possess, you need a passionate heart. Our profession is all about helping people," he notes. "One of the best things about working with my colleagues is that they are all competent and reliable healthcare professionals," Mr Lee remarks. "Setting aside trivial matters such as leave and payroll calculations, we work as a team and focus on serving patient needs by leveraging each other's professional niches and competences."
In Mr Lee's opinion, fresh graduates need a mentor for guidance and time to refine their skills in order to consolidate their strengths and identify areas for improvement.
"My university studies gave me an extensive knowledge range including the concepts of sociology and education," Mr Lee recalls. "However, when I graduated, there were only a handful of speech therapists in Hong Kong and opportunities were scarce."
Today, there is plenty of room in the industry for aspiring individuals but he cautions that enjoying a successful career in this particular field depends very much on personal expectations. "Working in a private practice can give you great exposure. You see people from all walks of life, from the young to the elderly, and the underprivileged to the rich and famous."
With the second centre now up and running, Mr Lee's 8am to 7pm schedule is constantly filled with private consultations and administrative tasks which include staff arrangement, plus a full day's service at the Union Hospital each Thursday.
Busy as he is, plans are already underway to explore further opportunities in the corporate world. "I'm looking into further developing the functionality of the centre," he says. "At the moment, our services in the business context are restricted to seminars and workshops. People perceive speech therapy solely as a treatment but in fact there's more to it — being a preventive measure or serving to enhance speech. For instance, while we keep a focus on helping children at school, we must also care for the teachers who use their voice all the time."