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Mr Ho and Mr Lee were young men when they left Singapore for their studies; their disciplines were young too. Over the course of their careers, both men grew from novices to leaders in their professions. Their experiences form part of the early history of Allied Health in Singapore.

Mr Ho Meng Hang (left) & Mr Albert Lee (right)


1989 was a big year for SGH. The Hospital was restructured and one of the consequences was the re-organisation of Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy into three separate entities at the Rehabilitation Centre.

Each department had its own chief. Mr Ho Meng Jang was head of Occupational Therapy, Mr Albert Lee, head of Physiotherapy and Ms Judith Chua, head of Speech Therapy. Mr Lee also served as the overall coordinator of the Centre.

‘In 1990, we went to the US together,’ says Mr Lee. ‘It was a work trip to learn how the therapists worked alongside doctors.’

After the trip, they proposed the start of an advisory board at the Rehabilitation Centre comprising some heads of medical and surgical departments and senior therapists. The objective was to foster better working relationships between the clinicians and therapists by keeping everyone up to date on the Centre’s activities and other relevant matters.

Both men knew each other long before 1990. In 1973, after Mr Ho returned from his Colombo Plan Scholarship to Australia, he received a phone call from Mr Lee. At that time, they weren’t good friends yet, Mr Ho recalls in his book Occupational Therapy in Singapore: A Historical Perspective and Anecdotes, published in 2007:  ‘We both knew each other by sight as we strutted along the corridors of SGH. But that phone call was our first contact. Albert asked if I was interested in joining a professional association. I thought he was forming an association of therapists. I was delighted.’

Mr Ho soon realised that what Mr Lee meant wasn’t an association for all the different rehabilitative therapists but the Singapore Physiotherapy Association. As a result of that conversation, Mr Ho went on to form the Singapore Association of Occupational Therapists (SAOT) together with a few other like-minded colleagues.

The SAOT was officially registered in 1975. This example is but one of many instances of the contributions made by Allied Health Professionals like Mr Ho and Mr Lee to the development of their disciplines, without which the widespread recognition of today wouldn’t have been possible.

Albert Lee was the only male student in his cohort. Source: Celebrating 50 Years of Care, Passion and Excellence (Singapore: Singapore Physiotherapy Association, 2014).

At the interview today, they behave the way old friends do when they get together, often exchanging looks that carry more words than their utterances. They are as relaxed and comfortable with each other as they are cordial with everyone else in the room.

Mr Lee shares that he had joined SGH in 1957 to work as a Dispensary Assistant.

He decided to apply to be a pupil in Physiotherapy after he saw a circular about the position one and a half years later. It was a decision that confounded his colleagues in the Dispensary.

Physiotherapy then was a very a new profession. The Chinese would always go to the tie dah yi sang [Cantonese for traditional Chinese physician] or bone-setter, the Malays would go to the bomohs, the Indians also had their own traditional medicine. People preferred to stick with traditional methods. Even my colleagues were laughing at me. They said this was a ladies’ job,’ Mr Lee says.

Whilst he was a pupil, he received the scholarship offer. But he had to decide very quickly if he was going to accept it or not: ‘Before I could make up my mind, I was given two weeks’ notice to go to London to study Physiotherapy. The reason was that there was a new government coming in.

Self-government, 1959,’ Mr Lee continues, chuckling at the recollection. He was selected to go to New Zealand but in the end, he had to go to the UK. New Zealand wasn’t equipped with facilities for the training of male physiotherapists, due to the gender bias of the profession back then.

Mr Ho was 18 or 19 when he saw an advertisement for pupils in Occupational Therapy. He didn’t know anything about the discipline but he sent in an application: ‘I just wanted some pocket money before I went to University of Singapore. There was six months between “H” Level and university. After I joined as pupil in 1961, Mr Ho Guan Lim [Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health] said, “We’re going to send you to Queensland!” What I didn’t know was that there’s a scholarship attached to the post I had applied for. When your family is poor, you don’t have that much money, and here is the government saying they’re going to send you to the University of Queensland, I mean it’s a golden opportunity!’


Mr Ho was awarded the prestigious Colombo Plan Scholarship and studied in Queensland, Australia, for three years. He was the first in Singapore to be sent overseas to study Occupational Therapy.

That was the start of his journey to becoming one of Singapore’s pioneers in Occupational Therapy. 46 years after he went abroad to study, he would write a book about the development of the field and in this book, he writes: ‘People provide service. Machines do not.’

Occupational Therapy at SGH in the 1960s.

Occupational Therapy was introduced to Singapore in 1948. In 1941, patients at Tan Tock Seng Hospital underwent physiotherapy offered by nursing staff under the supervision of a Professor of Surgery. However, this was soon disrupted by the war. Six years later, the first department of Physiotherapy was established at SGH.

Mr Ho and Mr Lee were young men when they left Singapore for their studies; their disciplines were young too. Over the course of their careers, both men
grew from novices to leaders in their professions. Their experiences form part of the early history of Allied Health in Singapore.

‘Occupational Therapy is about returning people to work,’ Mr Ho says. Mr Ho remembers a patient from the 80s. The man had had a stroke and wasn’t allowed to drive. He was a taxi driver. After rehabilitation, he overcame his physical and emotional barriers and was able to use his hand again. He regained his driving license and resumed work as a taxi driver. To thank Mr Ho, he drove to SGH and gave him a bag of oranges.

Weaving had been used in Occupational Therapy since World War I.

Hand injuries and rehabilitation were a key concern, resulting eventually in the starting of the Department of Hand Surgery in 1988. He credits the pivotal influence of Singapore’s first hand surgeon, Associate Professor Teoh Lam Chuan.

These days, the training of occupational therapists is markedly different from what Mr Ho went through in the 60s. He had to be adept at arts and crafts such as weaving, pottery and sewing, because these were used extensively in Occupational Therapy. Before he left for his university studies in Australia, his supervisor at Woodbridge Hospital, a British expatriate called Mr Wadham-Eyre, taught him how to weave on rug looms and tabby looms. He was glad he learnt because in Queensland, he soon found out that ‘weaving was a core curriculum.’

In the early days of Physiotherapy, exercise, heat therapy and electrical stimulation were the main therapeutic services. More varied treatment modalities were made available from the 50s onwards with the introduction of machines. However, Physiotherapy is about the human touch. Mr Lee is most animated and gregarious on the subject of empathy for patients: It’s not the knowledge you have that makes you a better therapist. If you don’t treat the patient as a human being, no matter how clever or well-qualified you are, your patient will not listen to your advice. What matters is your empathy. When the physiotherapist shows interest in the patient, the patient will trust him.’

He shares that during his time, physiotherapists were exposed to conditions such as poliomyelitis and leprosy. They were well-rounded through their wide-ranging exposure to patients with all kinds of ailments.


Later on, Mr Lee will make a passing remark that his interest in Physiotherapy probably began after seeing his father struggle with paraplegia. He doesn’t say more than that, but already one has an inkling of how his emphasis on empathy comes from personal experience early on in life. 

When they speak about patients’ appreciation being the main source of motivation and encouragement, there is a sense of their own gratitude for the years that have passed so fruitfully for them and for their disciplines.

Several times during the interview, Mr Ho exclaims: ‘That was so long ago, I can’t remember!’ He says this with a somewhat mischievous look, which seems to suggest that he may be thinking the opposite.

Mr Lee has vivid memories of how different things were, not just in SGH but in his home. ‘My sewing machine was my study desk!’ he says at one point. ‘My late wife was a nurse and she had to sharpen needles!’ He also recalls that when he was working as a Dispensary Assistant, every day the ‘small room was crammed with people’ and he had to measure the medication to pour into the bottles the patients had toted with them to the Hospital from home.

Mr Lee and Mr Ho’s perspectives as pioneer Allied Health Professionals makes the occasion of the SGH Bicentenary seem even more poignant. Listening to them, there is a distinct sense of how the lives of well-meaning, educated and compassionate individuals add up to the life of a great nation. They are not only members of the generation who had built Singapore, the Pioneer Generation; they are also among the first generation of Allied Health Professionals who have made SGH the People’s Hospital it is today.


Ho Meng Jang’s distinguished contributions to Singapore’s occupational therapy profession span 54 years, 43 of which were in SGH. He was Head of Department from 1975 to 1998. He was instrumental in establishing specialised hand therapy services in SGH. He also set up the burns rehabilitation service, including a seamstress to fabricate custom-made pressure garments for patients with hypertrophic scars and oedema, which received national recognition. Mr Ho transformed the occupational health and work rehabilitation services from its early days of art and craft and woodwork, to the use of computerised work hardening equipment. In 2020, Mr Ho retired from active clinical practice at the age of 82 as the longest serving Occupational Therapist in Singapore.


Albert Lee began his extensive career in SGH in 1957 as a dispensing assistant at the SGH Dispensary. In 1958, he was awarded a prestigious scholarship by the colonial government to study physiotherapy in London. He became a member of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy in the
UK. After graduation, Mr Lee advocated the use of manual therapy to treat musculoskeletal disorders and honed his expertise in this area on a Colombo Plan Scholarship for Manual Therapy in 1978 and a World Health Organization Fellowship to Australia for Manual Therapy in 1987, training under renowned manual therapists. Mr Lee led the transformation of the Physiotherapy Department when SGH became a restructured hospital in 1989.