My life as a medical social worker in Singapore
Published on 6 November 2023
Samuel Tay shares that supporting patients and their families through painful decisions is all in a day’s work at the National University Polyclinics (NUP).
As a medical social worker, I empower patients
to live independently and safely in the community. My role covers care arrangements, financial assistance and advance care planning (ACP). ACP allows people to document their medical treatment preferences even before they fall ill, and this is becoming increasingly prevalent in Singapore. I also conduct counselling sessions with patients and their families.
Many people have asked if I’m a volunteer,
or whether I just help to facilitate financial assistance. I can’t fault them for having this misconception, as it can sometimes be hard for patients to distinguish between the various healthcare professionals they encounter at hospitals and clinics, especially if they don’t introduce themselves properly.
My usual five-day work week
— my hours being 8am to 5.30pm daily — includes three-and-a-half clinic days. That’s when I see up to seven patients with their families in a day. The length of each meeting really depends on the issues at hand. For instance, if we're primarily discussing care arrangements and the family is very clear on what they want, then it can last from 20 to 30 minutes. However, ACP or counselling sessions can last up to an hour or longer. Beyond that, I typically spend a full day on administrative tasks and half a day in meetings or project discussions.
When it comes to supporting our ageing population, gaps still exist
. For instance, engaging a helper to share caregiving responsibilities can be stressful. A previous negative experience with a domestic helper might discourage families from engaging another, even though they may clearly need the assistance. For seniors with very little social support, their financial situation can hinder their ability to meet their care needs. Furthermore, some are unaware of the available financial assistance schemes until these are highlighted to them.
Knowing that our patients are well cared for and coping better
with their situation is the most rewarding part of my job. I once counselled a young adult who was experiencing family issues and had contemplated suicide. We had conversations about her wellbeing and whether there were any additional resources to ensure her safety. We also mapped out her social support system, and in doing so, she realised that she already had her own cheerleaders to rely on. Ultimately, she was thankful that she didn’t give up. She’s doing much better today!
The toughest cases I’ve handled
are those that involve arranging residential placement for elderly patients, whether at a sheltered home (accommodation for seniors with no alternative living arrangements), nursing home or senior group home. The process can be long-drawn — taking up to half a year — and in the interim, we continue to support the family. In addition, aged parents may be habituated to their current lifestyle and averse to change. In some cases, seniors believe that their children are abandoning them. Addressing these barriers takes time, but we do what we can to help enhance their quality of life. A better care arrangement will ultimately help both the elderly and the family.
How I unwind from work
My return commute from work at Bukit Panjang Polyclinic and Bukit Batok Polyclinic to my home in the east takes about 90 minutes. During this long journey, I usually tune out of work by enjoying the passing views from the train, listening to music (currently playing: tunes by Korean pop groups Blackpink and NewJeans) and watching shows. When I reach home, I have dinner with my family, followed by me-time with video games such as Guild Wars 2 and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
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