Personally experiencing the positive impact that healthcare professionals can have, Miss Sarah Lee Mei En, 23, knew she wanted to build a career in this sector.

Her older brother has special needs and requires frequent medical treatments. Miss Lee often accompanied her family to the hospital and over time, she developed an interest to give others the same support and care that her brother received.

Firmly focused

Though she had already made up her mind to join the healthcare sector, Miss Lee was uncertain about which area to specialise in. After her A levels, she participated in several attachments in hospitals in the areas of physiotherapy, occupational and speech therapy and medical social work.

“I felt most inclined to do medical social work after seeing the positive impact social workers made on patient’s and family members’ emotional and psychological well-being,” she recalls.

Taking up MOH Holdings’ Healthcare Merit Scholarship, Miss Lee studied at the National University of Singapore (NUS), graduating with the highest distinction for her Bachelor of Social Sciences degree. Her keen interest in the subject saw her becoming the best student in social work in her second year, and receiving the Dean’s List award twice.

The degree not only equipped her with theoretical knowledge but also with real-life professional experiences, as all social work students have to undergo compulsory placements. Miss Lee served at a family service centre during her first year at NUS and at the Ministry of Social and Family Development’s child protection service in her second year, receiving exposure to social work in different settings.

Now about half a year into her job as a medical social worker at Changi General Hospital (CGH), she helps out with the psychological and social needs of patients and their families. She works in a multidisciplinary team consisting of doctors, nurses and allied health professionals.

A calling

Miss Lee says: “Often, patients and their family members find hospitalisation a stressful experience. I provide them with emotional support during this period.”

This can range from financial assistance for their hospital bills through government aid schemes to facilitating their care and discharge plans.

“I love that I get to help people in practical and tangible ways through my work. It is satisfying to see patients and their families feel less burdened or worried by their healthcare expenses and to hear that they are living well in the community,” she says.

A typical day sees her reviewing cases, discussing them with her team in meetings, interviewing the patients and their family members to find out their psycho- social needs and conducting the appropriate interventions. She is also part of a smaller team handling end-stage renal failure cases.

“As every case is unique, we have to be flexible and creative in meeting the needs of our patients. The work environment is also fast-paced because we want patients to be able to return home as soon as possible, hence we have to intervene quickly,” she says.

Those taking care of others require care themselves to avoid burn-out and she gets support from her colleagues. “When I am feeling stressed or overwhelmed at work, I know I can share with them my struggles and they will lend a listening ear,” she says. The hospital’s employees also receive continuous training and development to help them deliver the best patient care.

For those interested in pursuing a healthcare scholarship or career, Miss Lee advises that they first ask themselves if they genuinely want to help people.

Specifically for her area of expertise, she says: “Medical social work is a high calling. Without a desire to serve patients and their family members, it would be difficult for one to remain motivated as a medical social worker because the job can be physically, mentally and emotionally draining.”

She suggests that those unsure or interested to find out more apply for attachments in hospitals, to have a taste of the daily life of healthcare professionals, to help them make an informed decision.