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Learning Hokkien and supporting caregivers to help boost seniors' health
By Audrey Ang
Lee Shi Pian AIC SPH Scholars' Choice
Ms Lee is looking forward to learning more from medical resources and experienced colleagues when she starts work at SACH as a medical social worker after graduating next year. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA/ FRENCHESCAR LIM

Following the footsteps of her medical social worker sister, Community Care scholar Lee Shi Pian aspires to make a positive impact on the lives of others

Ms Lee Shi Pian’s paternal grandmother would laugh whenever Ms Lee tried to practise what she learnt during her weekly conversational Hokkien lessons.

The lessons, which also include Cantonese and Malay, are part of the activities offered by the Singapore Healthcare Society (SHS) to better prepare healthcare students for work after they complete their studies. The SHS is a society started by MOH Holdings (MOHH) to provide a platform for allied health, pharmacy and nursing scholars to interact with one another and build support networks.

In Ms Lee’s case, she wants to be able to connect better not only with the elderly in her family, but also with the seniors whom she would be serving in her role as a medical social worker in future.

More on this topic: Helping patients perform their daily tasks more easily so that they get to enjoy life and interests again

Currently in her third year pursuing a bachelor’s degree in social work at the National University of Singapore (NUS), the 22-year-old is a recipient of the Community Care Scholarship administered by MOHH, in partnership with the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC).

In the same Hokkien class as her are students from other healthcare fields like allied health, pharmacy and nursing.

“No one else in my Hokkien class was studying social work,” she says. “So it was a good chance to learn about my peers’ courses, which is important since healthcare is interdisciplinary.”

Singapore’s Healthier SG initiative

Citing how the Government’s Healthier SG initiative – which focuses on preventive care and supports residents to lead healthier lifestyles – aligns with her interest, Ms Lee seeks to play an active role in helping Singapore’s seniors maintain good health and age in place within the community.

“I feel drawn towards community care because I see value and purpose in putting my hands to the work that needs to be done so as to to meet the increasing healthcare needs of our fast-ageing population,” she says.

Lee Shi Pian Community Care Scholarship SPH Scholars' Choice
Ms Lee and her paternal grandmother, who is her motivation for learning Hokkien. PHOTO: LEE SHI PIAN

Social work was something she had always been interested in because it offers her opportunities to grow while making a difference in other people’s lives.

“I wanted to learn something that would allow me to develop my people skills,” she says, about her academic choice.

“Social work was a course that would equip me with tangible and actionable skills that would result in my personal growth and could be applied to my personal life as well.”

Witnessing her older sister’s personal growth journey after she became a medical social worker was another reason Ms Lee chose social work.

She affectionately shares that her sister has become more patient and understanding after entering the workforce. Her sister now plays the role of a mediator whenever family members get into disagreements and helps Ms Lee understand others’ perspectives.

“I see value and purpose in putting my hands to the work that needs to be done so as to to meet the increasing healthcare needs of our fast-ageing population.”

– Ms Lee Shi Pian, recipient of the Community Care Scholarship

Ms Lee became more curious about social work and eventually decided on the same profession as her sister. After all, it gives one “many lenses to see the world and the skills to interact with others”, she says.

“I want to do a job in which I can channel my energy and passion, and take pride in being able to help people,” she adds.

She was halfway through her social work studies at NUS when she found out about the Mid-Term Community Care Scholarship.

Wanting to relieve the financial burden on her father – who is the sole breadwinner of her family of seven, with three children in university – she applied for the scholarship.

“On hindsight, I think the scholarship search and application process were a way of taking ownership of my future career path,” she says.

So far, the scholarship has given her opportunities to interact with stakeholders in the healthcare sector such as leaders, professionals and her peers, which has allowed her to understand more about Singapore’s healthcare scene and its future growth.

Anticipating the needs of caregivers

Her personal experience with her late maternal grandmother also gave her insights into the challenges that families and caregivers face.

Her own family and their helper were the main caregivers of her grandmother who was living with dementia.

“By witnessing the care given to my grandma, I have a better understanding of how big of an undertaking caregiving is and how caregiving can influence family dynamics,” she says.

As a result, she hopes to offer the caregivers she works with some comfort in knowing that she can empathise with their emotional and practical needs.

After she completes her studies next year, Ms Lee will start work at St. Andrew’s Community Hospital (SACH) as a medical social worker. She hopes to learn from more experienced colleagues and grow to be as proficient as they are.

She is also excited at the prospect of working with other care team members such as doctors, nurses and allied health professionals – both within and beyond SACH – to provide the best care and experience for patients.

To others considering social work as a profession, she advises them to focus on understanding each client’s unique situation and help every client to make the best of his or her circumstances.

“With this in mind, I hope to remain curious about my future patients and reflect on how I can do better in my role as a medical social worker – understanding each individual patient’s needs, addressing their concerns and journeying with them to work towards their healthcare goals,” says Ms Lee.

3 things to know about the Community Care Scholarship
– Candidates can apply either for the Full-Term scholarship before entering university, or the Mid-Term scholarship if they are currently pursuing a relevant health science degree.

– The scholarship, which is offered by MOH Holdings, covers courses in four healthcare disciplines: physiotherapy, occupational therapy, medical social work and speech therapy.

– Existing allied health professionals can pursue a degree conversion course under the scholarship at local or approved overseas universities.

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