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Where Empathy Meets Inspiration: Get with the Program

Oct. 6, 2020

Get with the Program

Prior to March, Singapore had been recognized for controlling COVID-19 better than most other countries, but then the virus boomeranged back with a vengeance. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that people in Singapore — and indeed the world over — now understand the role of respiratory therapists (RTs) in intensive care.

“Before the pandemic, no one really knew about what we do,” says Ivan Lee, BHS ’12, who was the first Singaporean to graduate from MU’s respiratory therapy program. Helping patients in respiratory failure breathe using a ventilator, “We are there to make a difference when it matters most, in terms of life and death,” Lee says. “We’re the health care system’s unsung heroes.” But not for long, if Lee has his way.

The recognition of RTs as frontline heroes could help Lee toward his goal of founding and leading Singapore’s first respiratory therapy training program. Lee is acutely aware of the need for a local program, and not just because he traveled all the way to Missouri for his education. He recently was hired to establish the respiratory therapy department for a new hospital under construction in Singapore. He spends half of his 12-hour workday caring for patients at an affiliated hospital and the other half developing the new department. With coronavirus travel restrictions, Lee expects hiring people will be a challenge. Singapore, which has no respiratory therapy programs of its own, recruits most of its RTs from the Philippines and Taiwan. Some, like Lee, are sent overseas on scholarship to receive training.

This story by Dawn Klingensmith, BA, BJ ’97, was originally published in the Fall 2020 issue of MIZZOU alumni magazine.