Pharmacist do much more than just dispense medication.

Senior pharmacist Agnes Wong Li Yu, 28, says: “Pharmacists have a broader role as drug experts, who work alongside patients and medical teams to suggest treatments, provide information on medication use, and safeguard patients who are on any kind of medication.”

In 2009, she took up the Healthcare Merit Scholarship for the Bachelor of Science (Pharmacy) degree at the National University of Singapore (NUS). The scholarship is awarded by MOH Holdings, the holding company for Singapore’s public healthcare clusters.

NUS prepared her well for her career as a pharmacist with rigorous clinical education by experienced professors. Her course included soft-skills training, which is useful for pharmacists who work directly with patients. Studying locally meant she could take care of her parents who had health issues then.

Building knowledge

Ms Wong has now been with the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) for four-and-a-half years, choosing to continue working there even after completing her fouryear scholarship bond.

“I have grown and learnt a lot working at IMH. The warm and friendly environment is conducive to learning and build up a good foundation of clinical knowledge,” she says.

“There are many opportunities for me to put what I have learnt into practice and contribute to my organisation. I have learnt values such as to respect and treat people with sincerity, and that I am always both student and teacher wherever I go. I have learnt to be sensitive yet firm with decision-making. Such a career of lifelong learning is what I have always hoped for.”

Her current work covers the psychogeriatric ward, which caters to the mental health needs of the elderly. She spends her morning conducting ward rounds with the medical team, where she suggests treatment plans and ensures medications are safe, appropriate and optimal for her patients.

For patients being discharged or going on home leave, she will dispense their medication, educate them and their caregivers on the medicines’ uses and effects, and help them manage any side-effects.

Empathetic employee

Ms Wong is part of a team of pharmacists that audits the antibiotics dispensation daily to ensure choice, dosage and frequency are correct. The team also conducts training for allied healthcare professionals in medication counselling skills, the administration of medications and management of side effects. They also run smoking cessation counselling services upon referrals.

At IMH, pharmacists are rotated to its different wards to ensure they are proficient in working with the various patient groups and are able to cater to their differing needs. The wards include general psychiatry, mood disorder, early psychosis intervention programme, child psychiatry, addiction, forensic, elderly/dementia and medical.

Empathy is an important trait for healthcare workers. Ms Wong recalls a former patient referred to her for smoking cessation. She learnt he only started smoking recently, so that he could gain acceptance from a new group of friends who smoked. These friends were important to him, as most people distanced themselves because of his mental health condition.

“We have to remember all the time, each patient is a person. I saw how the stigma of mental illness can hinder the recovery of patients who have mental health conditions. I hope this can change over time, and as we understand these conditions more, society can be more accepting of persons with mental health conditions, and patients will be more open to our medication and treatment,” she says.

For those aspiring to join the healthcare industry or secure a healthcare scholarship, Ms Wong suggests that they try to shadow a person in the specific role they wish to explore. It will help them understand the demands of the job and whether they will thrive in such work.