Scholars' experience Details

Exercising empathy towards the vulnerable

Published 17 Jul 2020

Photo credit to Sengkang General Hospital

By Bryte Asteri

While some have reservations about working closely with those who have sexually transmitted diseases, medical social worker Chan Shi Min is passionate about providing support and care to such individuals.

For the past two years, the 26-year-old has been working with those who have the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (Aids).

“I believe that no one should be discriminated because of their medical condition,” says Ms Chan. “More can be done to educate the public about HIV and Aids, so as to dispel some of the common misconceptions and misinformation.”

Many of these patients are initially unwilling to engage with her, she says. “They fear being judged.”

But by demonstrating genuine interest in helping them, they gradually warm up to her and eventually share with her their psychosocial concerns and needs.

Ms Chan also assists other vulnerable individuals. Her work at Sengkang General Hospital (SKH) includes ensuring that her patients are able to transit smoothly from the hospital back to the community, and linking them up with community resources.

“Being a medical social worker involves more than just listening intently to the concerns of our patients and their families,” she says. “It is also about providing them information so they can make informed decisions, helping them navigate the healthcare system, and advocating for their needs.”

Some of these needs include accommodation, financial assistance with medical bills, and follow-up treatments.

To her, exercising empathy is essential in her work “to better understand patients’ perspectives and situations”.


Finding the right opportunities

The seeds of empathy were sown from the time Ms Chan was in secondary school.

During those years, she took part in volunteering opportunities offered through her school. These ranged from teaching English and computer literacy skills to the elderly, to cleaning and painting the homes of low-income families. Each time, she found it meaningful to help those in need.

When in junior college, a road traffic accident involving her family members further piqued her interest in the local healthcare sector. As she interacted with the hospital’s multi-disciplinary team of doctors, nurses, therapists, and a medical social worker, she began to understand how the different roles worked together to support the family.

She was particularly struck by how the medical social worker helped her family to cope, by addressing their individual needs and medical concerns throughout that episode.

After her A levels, Ms Chan chanced upon the Healthcare Merit Award in a scholarship guide and found herself drawn to it.

“It seemed like the perfect opportunity to pursue my interests,” she explains. “At that age, I was not completely sure if I had what it takes to be a medical social worker, but I wanted to give it a try.”

She was given the Healthcare Merit Award in 2013, began her degree in social work at the National University of Singapore shortly after, and graduated in July 2017 with a Bachelor of Social Sciences, with honours in Social Work.

She says that the scholarship helped to relieve her from financial pressures, and also allowed her opportunities to engage with the staff at SKH, even before she commenced work there.

“These opportunities allowed me to have a better understanding of the environment and the people I will be working with,” she says.


Making a difference

In these Covid-19 pandemic times, Ms Chan notes that her job has become all the more critical, as she sees more patients and families experiencing anxiety as a result of facing financial stressors, family conflicts, and job uncertainty.

The work does get tiring, but the satisfaction of knowing that what she does can make a difference to a patient keeps her going.

While there are many who look to her for help and support, Ms Chan says that she gleans much from them too. “There are patients and their caregivers who never fail to inspire me with their resilience towards life.”

Having worked for three years now, she has this to say about the public healthcare industry: “It is fast-paced, dynamic and exciting. If you have the desire and passion to help others improve their lives, join us.”


Scholarship details

Healthcare Merit Award


Singapore citizen or permanent resident who is willing to take up Singapore citizenship; achieve outstanding A-level results (offered at least 10 academic units), diploma with merit/distinction or equivalent qualifications, (e.g. International Baccalaureate (IB) or NUS high school diploma); good co-curricular activities record and strong leadership qualities; passion for serving in the public healthcare sector; good communication skills



Tuition and compulsory fees; monthly allowances; pre-study allowance; return economy airfare and clinical placement expense (for overseas study only); sponsorship for approved developmental programmes; commencement award; distinction award (for scholars who graduate with at least Second Class (Upper) Honours or equivalent)



Four years (local); six years (overseas)


Terms and conditions apply. Visit for more information.


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