Switching careers

by | May 24, 2024

Seventy-one-year-old Chong Ooi goes from a purchasing officer in the air-conditioning industry to a care coordinator in the eldercare sector and continues to keep his head-up despite challenges.


Chong Ooi.

In 2012, 60-year-old Chong Ooi took on a caregiving role when his 82-year-old mother was diagnosed with dementia. Eight years later, his role expanded to his other parent, who at the age of 90, was also diagnosed with the same condition. Little did he know that all this would offer him a window into his future job and help him as he moves forward in his caregiving role.

While caring for his mother, Ooi, who is single, worked as a purchasing officer part-time in the air-conditioning industry. He also hired a helper to help him. Explaining why he didn’t choose to caregive full-time, he said: “I needed the additional income to sustain myself as well as my parents.”


Challenge after challenge

However, doing the juggling act of caregiving and working proved to be a challenge. He noted “overextended responsibilities” as one such challenge, adding: “Juggling work and caregiving was demanding. I didn’t know what to do and how to handle the situation at the time, particularly with someone with dementia and I also didn’t make time for myself initially.”

Ooi also shared that even though he received financial support from some of his siblings, there was still a lack of support from friends and family including advice and information, and helping with respite. Coupled with his frustration and getting frequently distressed and upset, this all added further layers of challenges.

As a result, his health took a toll and he was eventually diagnosed with depression. “Seeking support for mental health is essential, and visiting a doctor at the Institute of Mental Health was a crucial step in addressing my feelings of depression and unease. The doctor not only offered guidance but also prescribed medication to alleviate my specific symptoms.” He shared that he had to take the medication for 10 years but has stopped since as he has been managing well.


When one door closes

In 2014, he decided to go full-time rather than part-time to get more money and felt his helper was capable to handle his mother. However, the decision was not an easy one. “After sending around 50 job applications in search of roles similar to my previous experience, only two companies interviewed me, but unfortunately, I was not selected. I suspect age might have been a factor in the limited responses.”

In August that same year, at the age of 62, Ooi then approached statutory board Workforce Singapore to get some career advice and an officer there steered him into the eldercare sector and recommended interviewing at social enterprise NTUC Health. “Fortunately, luck was on my side as I managed to secure the position and commenced work.” He landed the role there as a care coordinator.

Then around 2020, his father was diagnosed with dementia. Today, both of his parents are wheelchair-bound and cared at home by him and his helper, and they both go to the dementia day care centre five days a week. From his first foray into caregiving back in 2012 to now, it is his role with NTUC Health that further helps him be a better caregiver.

Ooi working at NTUC Health handling case management and coordinating homecare services for clients who are referred to the organisation.

Currently, a senior care coordinator, Ooi handles case management and coordinates homecare services for clients who are referred to NTUC Health and has since connected more than 300 families with the organisation. But moving to NTUC Health was nonetheless a complete career switch for him and this meant persistence and an open mind.

“Embarking on a complete career switch was a formidable challenge. The transition to an entirely different field posed difficulties, particularly in dealing with demanding and bad-tempered clients. Thankfully, the support from my manager and colleagues played a crucial role in guiding me through the challenges,” he shared. When in doubt with particular situations, he has managed to find solutions by asking his colleagues and seeking help on Google. “I have to calm down and lower my voice, and tell the client that I am unable to solve his or her problem. However, I would tell him or her that I would seek management’s advice and get back to him or her.”

To navigate this career shift, he also took proactive steps to upskill himself by attending relevant courses on dementia and healthcare.


Expanded caregiving roles

Now at age 71, he continues with his caregiving roles of his parents and on top of that, “caregives” his regular clients like Mr Tan, a 75-year-old widower who lost his wife a year ago and lives in a three-room HDB flat and has no children. Ooi regularly visits him with an NTUC Health care associate to check in on him. At one time, he noticed he has mild dementia and refuses help to wash his clothes. After much convincing, Ooi managed to get the care associate to help wash Mr Tan’s clothes. After a few times of allowing this to happen, Mr Tan however went back to his old ways, saying he was able to do the washing on his own. But, Ooi hopes he can one day change Mr Tan’s mind again.

“After I joined NTUC Health, I found everything can be solved. There is no need to panic and worry. If I am able to solve it, I am happy that I am able to help my clients.”

Ooi added: “Sometimes you have to use other methods not the same ones when facing difficult situations. How I treat my parents is how I work with my clients. I have to stay calm and be patient.”

Even with his parents having late-stage dementia, he is clear-minded that he won’t place them in a nursing home and wants to look after them for as long as he can. He takes respite as needed such as engaging in regular exercise by going to the gym three times a week and finding solace in listening to classical music. He shared: “Music has a way of soothing my soul and lifting my spirits. It serves as a form of therapy that helps me relax and unwind after a long day. Whether I am at the gym or at home, music has become an integral part of my daily routine.” He also carves out time to spend with friends and siblings to give him the much needed emotional support and companionship.

Now with more tools at his fingertips than previously, he is taking each day as it comes.


(** PHOTO CREDIT: Singapore National Co-operative Federation)


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