What do you think is the most pressing issue facing the healthcare sector today?
“There are many challenges but one of the most pressing issues is our fast-ageing population and increased burden of chronic diseases. By 2030, 1 in 4 Singaporeans will be aged above 65. We are also faced with a shrinking workforce. By 2030, for every citizen leaving the workforce, we have only about 0.7 who is entering the workforce. Another challenge is increasing patient expectations. With healthcare information becoming more accessible, patients come to us with expectations of the care that they receive.”
In your opinion what are the pressing issues women face in the healthcare profession?
“I think most challenges in the healthcare profession are faced by both men and women. The added difficulty for a woman can come after she starts a family. For example, when a female doctor starts a family in her late 20s or 30s, it can be pressurising initially as she tries to balance family commitments and career progression in Medicine. I think it’s critical to strike a balance during that period. My advice is to be unafraid to seek help from parents and relatives, and to have a support network. At the same time, continue to keep yourself engaged with work because when your kids grow up, you will have more time to refocus on your career.”
How is it like being in an administrative role, on top of being a physician?
“Frankly, it wasn’t something that I had expected. Life kind of took its own turns. If I was told when I was your age that I would be doing what I’m doing now, I would have said “No way, forget it!” *laughs*. For me, it was about living life step by step and whatever came my way that I felt I needed to do, I would just do my best. There’s really no need to think too far ahead.
After I specialised in paediatrics and genetics, I was asked to head the genetics unit. We set up the first DNA lab here and also the thalassemia registry. These were more administrative than clinical work, but it was critical to the department because it allowed for definitive diagnosis and genetic screening. That was my first exposure to non-direct clinical work and I started questioning, how else can we better serve our patients.
When leadership appointments are offered to me, I see it as a way to extend my reach as a doctor to touch the lives of more patients, beyond the 50 to 60 patients I see in the clinic every day. That is my driving force and motivation to take up leadership positions. Whether you’re a clinician or clinician leader, I think it’s a role that you grow into. Regardless of what role you take on, the focus should always be on the patients.”
How do you think doctors in the past differ from the doctors who are graduating now?
I don't think they are very much different. The circumstances that we work in are different but the work we do is essentially the same. I think doctors are generally very committed and many do Medicine because it's a calling and they really want to help people.
For instance, when our doctors go on overseas humanitarian trips, everything is back to the bare basics because there’s no EMR to refer to, you can’t order a CT scan. You need to rely on clinical skills. It doesn’t matter if you are a young or senior doctor and you really get to see the younger doctors step up when they are put in such challenging environments.