Medical students in Singapore should consider pursuing family medicine as a career option, urged Health Ministry's Director of Medical Services Associate Professor Benjamin Ong. Speaking at the first National Medical Students' Convention recently, he stressed on the role of family medicine in gaining importance in the country.

He explained that, in comparison, less numbers from each cohort of medical students would eventually become specialists. Narrow-capability specialty practice, shared Prof Ong, will be less relevant as “many more doctors will need breadth and depth, and general professional skills and capabilities”.

MOH developing acute hospitals, specialty centres and polyclinics

During the convention, Prof Ong also shared with about 210 hopeful doctors that their competency development, career aspirations and maintenance should “aim to address the societal needs.” He elaborated, “We should not be in it for prestige, financial rewards or fame... We should not seek to be a super-specialist when there is limited demand for such capabilities or choose a specialty primarily because it gives us a good work-life balance.”

The Singapore Medical Association (SMA) hosted the convention as part of the Singapore Medical Week. Held at Marina Bay Sands, the event also witnessed discussion on several key topics, for instance issues impacting how doctors practise medicine in the future.

Acute hospitals and specialty centres delivering specialised, episodic care have been the key developmental areas of the nation’s healthcare system, shared Prof Ong. However, he continued, the establishment and improvement of various polyclinics in Singapore have also been funded by the government.

As previously reported, Singapore faces an ageing population and, with it, the demands of the healthcare system are changing. Prof Ong highlighted the necessity of this shift as well as tighter manpower resources.

“Even though acute care will continue to be an important part of our healthcare system, the growing heath needs of our ageing population – with a corresponding increase in healthcare costs – makes the current hospital-centric model increasingly unsustainable,” echoed Prof Ong.

Ageing population calls for more ‘generalist’ clinicians

Prof Ong quoted that by 2030, the number of Singaporeans aged 65 and above is expected to double to 900,000. Subsequently, this will lead to an increase in chronic disease burden. Soon to be larger and gain complexity, the burden will see more patients with multiple co-morbidities and warranting multi-disciplinary management.

“These 'complex' patients will form an increasing segment of our patient population, even as medical standards advance and lifespan increases. The demands on our healthcare system will increase even as we face greater manpower and fiscal constraints in meeting those demands. This makes it even more challenging for us to meet the care needs of our patients,” he remarked.

Thus, Prof Ong says gone are the days of clinicians working in isolation. Rather, an inter-professional team-based approach must be adopted to uphold effective care. Echoing in agreement was SMA President Dr Wong Tien Hua, who also spoke at the event.

From cradle to grave, family physicians manage patients’ care holistically. Hence, upgrading training for family medicine is of the health ministry’s key commitments.

More generalist specialisations will also be important government developmental focal points, shared Prof Ong. In addition to that, fields with larger community roles like internal medicine, geriatric medicine, and rehabilitation medicine would also be improved.

“It is important for all specialists not to overlook their broader competencies, and to treat their patients holistically; instead of focusing solely on the diseases or body part relevant to their discipline,” he explained. MIMS

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