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Lending a listening ear

FOR MS Amanda Low, clinching a MOH Holdings’ (MOHH) Healthcare Merit Award scholarship means the start of a journey to explore various healthcare-related occupations, from nursing to occupational therapy.

She wanted to heed her parents’ advice to pursue physiotherapy initially, but her true passion was ironically discovered during her scholarship interview.

A member of the interviewing panel had noticed her interest in “listening to people’s problems” and suggested that she consider a career in medical social work instead.

The 22-year-old was eventually awarded the scholarship and she heeded her interviewer’s advice to study social work at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

“I was interested in the specialisation as it provided me the opportunity to learn relationship-building skills, counselling techniques and social issues affecting different groups of people in Singapore, such as the elderly, people with disabilities and those with criminal records,” she says.

The Healthcare Merit Award, formerly known as the Health Science and Nursing Scholarship, is offered by the Ministry of Health.

It covers her tuition fees and provides a monthly maintenance allowance for the duration of her four-year bachelor’s degree programme.

It also takes care of certain expenses for student exchange programmes as long as the student meets minimum grade point average requirements.

Broadening perspectives

During her studies, Ms Low realised that there is a lot more to social work than just counselling people.

She says: “I also learnt social research skills, social policy planning and management skills such as volunteer management.

“It broadened my perspective on the role of social workers.”

Modules such as medical social work and public health introduced her to working life in the palliative, renal, geriatric and paediatric units, as well as healthcare systems and policies in Singapore and other countries such as the United Kingdom, Sweden and Taiwan.

She interned at @27 Family Service Centre, where she was part of a team raising awareness about dementia in the community.

She also interned at the Institute of Mental Health, where she learnt more about how a medical social worker supports people with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Overcoming challenges

Ms Low struggled with self doubt and anxiety in the first two years of her undergraduate studies.

To overcome her negative emotions, she read self-help books and reached out for support from field supervisors, lecturers, family and friends.

Her efforts have paid off and she is less afraid of making mistakes and more focused on stepping out of her comfort zone.

Since starting work as a medical social worker at the National University Hospital in June, Ms Low has been visiting and counselling patients and their families.

She connects them to the relevant organisations for social assistance when needed, and shares her assessment and intervention plans with other healthcare professionals involved in her patients’ care.

She also attends meetings with other medical social workers and welfare officers from family service centres, where she sometimes takes on the role of an advocate for her patients’ psychosocial and spiritual needs.

“I aspire to be an advocate in a certain area of healthcare, probably something that entails more involvement in research work and community-building programmes that bridge hospitals with communities,” she says.