Member Spotlight: Dr. Noor Bismillah
April 5th, 2018
Dr. Noor Bismillah graduated medical school at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, obtaining a MBBS degree in 1996. She also completed her postgraduate studies at the University of Malaya, obtaining a Master of Rehabilitation Medicine in 2005. From 2006 to 2008, she served as the head of the Rehabilitation Department at Hospital Raja Perempuan Zainab II, the state hospital of Kelantan state in northeastern peninsular Malaysia. She next served as the head of the Rehabilitation Department at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, the state hospital of Sabah state in Borneo, from 2008 to 2011. From 2013 to 2017, she served as the head of the Spinal Rehabilitation Unit at Hospital Rehabilitation Cheras (HRC) in Kuala Lampur. HRC, which opened in July 2012, offers comprehensive outpatient and inpatient rehabilitation medicine services and has 166 beds. It is the first hospital of its kind in the Southeast Asia region. HRC, an initiative of the Ministry of Health, Government of Malaysia, is designed with an emphasis on energy efficiency, green spaces and therapeutic landscapes. It is locally known as the “Hospital in the Park.” Dr. Noor Bismillah currently continues to serve as a rehabilitation physician on the Spinal Rehabilitation Unit at HRC. She has been a member of ISCOS since 2015.
How did you get interested in the field of rehabilitation medicine in general and spinal cord injury (SCI) medicine specifically?
My interest in rehabilitation medicine started when I was still in secondary school. I really wanted to do more for my late father who had a stroke at the time. The interest grew even deeper when the health clinic where I was working was selected as the first health clinic in Malaysia to run a community outreach program for disabled children. From there on, my enthusiasm to learn more about rehabilitation medicine grew even stronger. When I learned that there was a Master of Rehabilitation Medicine programme being offered by one of the local universities (University of Malaya), I immediately seized the opportunity and sent my application. To my utmost happiness, I was accepted into the 4th batch of postgraduates enrolled into this programme and started my training in 2001. I was first introduced to SCI medicine during this programme. Since then, I have continued to have a deep interest in learning everything I can about SCI medicine and wanting to help as many patients with SCI as I can.
What have been your main areas of interest within the field of SCI/rehabilitation medicine?
I have an extra interest in the management of neurogenic bladder in SCI because I just love to see how the team comes together to contribute so much to this. As a team, we can design the best bladder management programme for each patient to get the best results. We have a saying here that, “Together each achieves more.”
Please tell us about the situation related to medical care and rehabilitation of persons with SCI in your hospital and in Malaysia in general.
I am very grateful to have been able to see and contribute to the development of rehabilitation medicine services in Malaysia. After I graduated from the Master of Rehabilitation Medicine programme in 2005, I served in two government state hospitals. During that time, rehabilitation medicine was still very much an unknown to most of the hospitals in Malaysia. I consider myself to be very lucky to have had the opportunity to personally experience the challenges in starting a rehabilitation medicine service in each of the hospitals where I worked. When I first started the service in one of the hospitals, I did not have my own chair to sit on or my own table to do work. However, with the strong support from hospital administrators and my colleagues, the services progressed very well. After about 4 years, we managed to open a rehabilitation ward and clinic for our patients. Now, Malaysia has a total of 86 rehabilitation physicians serving in 16 government hospitals, 7 university hospitals, 6 private hospitals and one social security rehabilitation centre.
Management of rehabilitation patients in Malaysia in general has its own unique challenges. As Malaysia is a multiracial country, not only do we manage patients from various races, but we also have to deal with various languages, dialects, cultures, religions and socioeconomic backgrounds. The key points to successful management are respect for all the differences and treating each patient as a special individual who deserves the best treatment regardless of social background.
What improvements in the lives of persons with SCI and other disabilities in Malaysia have you seen over the years?
Over the years, with the expansion of rehabilitation medicine services in Malaysia, I see less and less of our patients suffering from medical complications related to SCI such as pressure ulcers and joint contractures. On the other hand, I am seeing more and more of our patients able to live independently. A large number of our patients have been reintegrated back into the society and have become productive members of the community. Some of our patients are now serving the community through their original professions despite the various physical disabilities that they have.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
I am very grateful to have been able to initiate a spiritual support programme at my current workplace. This program is aimed at encouraging and helping patients participate in their spiritual activities. By this, we are hoping to be able to help them achieve optimal spiritual health and ultimately reach a more holistic recovery at the end of their rehabilitation programme. Under this programme, we organise a number of activities which include providing a disabled-friendly praying area for patients who are wheelchair dependent. We also provide the necessary equipment for our patients to perform their prayers and guide them on how to perform the ritual despite the physical limitations that they have. We also provide free food for suhur for patients who are well enough to fast during the month of Ramadhan. This spiritual support programme gives me the utmost satisfaction in my management of patients with SCI because I have a chance not only to manage their physical disabilities, but also to help them become more holistically healthy.
In my 12 years experience of working as a rehabilitation physician, the most interesting experience was when a newly paraplegic patient requested of our team to help him prepare to perform Hajj within three months of admission to our hospital. It was such a great challenge for us, but with a combination of the patient's strong determination, the team's tireless efforts and excellent networking with Malaysian Hajj Institute (Tabung Haji), we managed to fulfill his wish and he successfully performed the Hajj as planned.