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As the holding company of Singapore’s public healthcare clusters, Ministry of Health Holdings (MOHH) helps the Singapore healthcare system foster a healthy nation. Singapore has a good healthcare system, which is evolving to serve our community with better quality, more accessible and affordable patient care, and capable healthcare talent is needed to lead the change.
Through scholarships such as the Healthcare Merit Award, MOHH develops healthcare talent with unique programmes and exciting developmental opportunities and aims to groom future leaders in the healthcare industry. Healthcare scholars like Celine Tham will find their healthcare careers both challenging and rewarding as they champion excellence in public healthcare and contribute to building the future of Singapore’s public healthcare system.
With a passion for social work, Celine pursued a Bachelor of Social Sciences with Honours in Social Work from NUS with the support of MOHH. Now, she has found her calling as a Senior Medical Social Worker at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital. To Celine, her work is more than just a job - it is meaningful and exciting as she can make a difference in her patients’ lives.
Celine’s passion for social work comes as no surprise. Since childhood, her heart goes out to those who are less privileged. There is always a nagging feeling that she should help whenever she could, whether it is donating a $1 coin or giving direction to someone who is lost. Celine shared, “I believe helping others is my calling in life and it gives me purpose.”
Growing up, she listened to others carefully when they share about things that troubled them and showed support by being there with them. Therefore, it is not unexpected that a career personality quiz done by her secondary school suggested social work as a recommended career choice for Celine, and it is a recommendation that she followed through.
Truth be told, Celine’s journey to become a Medical Social Worker was not smooth sailing at the start. Her family opposed her decision because medical social work as a profession was not commonly known then. After much discussion, she finally changed their mind, “We came to an agreement that I would earn myself a scholarship in medical social work if I were to take it up for undergraduate studies.”
Therefore, Celine was very thankful when she received the Healthcare Merit Award. Coming from a less privileged background, the scholarship had also provided her with a sense of financial security, allowing Celine to focus on her studies and volunteer for causes that she was passionate about during her undergraduate years.
Through the scholarship, Celine was also given the opportunity to join the Events committee of the Singapore Healthcare Society (SHS) and work with fellow healthcare scholars studying in other fields to plan get-together events.
Medical Social Workers support the patients as well as their families in the psychosocial aspects of coping with their illness during the recovery journey. This could be in the form of counselling support for patients who have experienced loss of functions, applying for financial assistance for patients who are not able to afford their medical treatment, providing information and directing patients to existing resources or linking them up with appropriate service providers for further support in the community.
It is certainly not easy, but Celine takes it all in her stride. In fact, she finds it a privilege to be allowed into the lives of her patients to listen to them and provide them with support during their recovery journey.
Besides her role as a Medical Social Worker, Celine also looks forward to taking on other roles and functions in the healthcare sector. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Celine partnered with her colleagues to organise the 8th JurongHealth Campus Social Work Grand Round. It was their first time holding a Zoom-based webinar involving four panellists and more than 300 participants, but that did not deter Celine at all!
“It was something very different from my usual day-to-day work with patients and their families and gave me a chance to work with my colleagues in a different capacity,” she shared. They spent a meaningful time together learning how to care for the vulnerable elderly population during the pandemic.
Another time that Celine rose to the occasion was when she was given the opportunity to be part of the pandemic team in her department during a surge in COVID-19 cases among the migrant workers. Together with the team, she conducted a psychological triage assessment of the infected workers who had been hospitalised and attended to their psycho-emotional needs with the help of translators via video call. Although it was not her usual fare, Celine was glad to be able to provide comfort to the migrant workers who had fallen ill in a foreign country far from home.
On top of caring for her patients and their families, Celine also provides training to staff and student interns who are new to working in the healthcare sector. She will give her new colleagues an overview of the healthcare financial model and share with them the existing policies and schemes that support the care of patients in the community.
When asked about her greatest achievement so far, Celine said it is when she managed to help her patients achieve their goals. It sounds cliché but she meant every word of it.
She had a patient who was hospitalised for almost nine months and had to undergo several surgeries including an amputation of one of his lower limbs. There were weeks when he was making progress in his therapy sessions, but some new medical issues would crop up and he had to be sent to the Intensive Care Unit. To make matters worse, visitation was not permitted during his hospitalisation period due to the pandemic.
Celine would check on him regularly to give him the much-needed support. Eventually, his condition improved and he was able to return home. The entire process was very trying for everyone, but to Celine, the outcome was worth the effort and time she had put in!
Celine encourages those who are interested in joining the healthcare sector to be open to learning and working in a collaborative environment, as patients are taken care of by a multidisciplinary team of professionals.
“Most importantly, remember why you want to join a helping profession and let it keep you grounded amidst the fast-paced and gruelling work environment.”
Well said, Celine!
This article was first published in BrightSparks Magazine July 2022. Republished with permission from CareerBuilder Singapore.