The number of citizens aged 60 and beyond in Singapore is increasing rapidly, as population growth slows down. Reports also revealed that the number are set to double by 2030. In order to cater for a greying society, there’s a need to ensure a sufficient manpower in this area. The Health Ministry has earlier echoed the message, urging medical students in Singapore to consider pursuing family medicine – as their career option.

Commenting on the current residency programme, Senior Minister of State for Health, Mr Chee Hong Tat expressed that “we have to be honest and acknowledge that while the (US-styled) residency programme has its advantages and good points, some of the outcomes have not been as positive in practice as what we had originally hoped for.” Speaking at the SingHealth Duke-NUS Education Conference, last Saturday, Mr Chee also stated that the country’s Ministry of Health (MOH) would be reviewing the United States-styled residency programme, which was introduced in 2010. He did not elaborate further on the “positive” and “problems” of the programme, which aims to help accelerating specialist doctors’ training processes.

Time to assess the “practicality” of implementing US-styled residency programme in Singapore

There’s a need for more general doctors to address the surge in the greying population in Singapore.
There’s a need for more general doctors to address the surge in the greying population in Singapore.

Doctors have shared about the practicality of having the US-styled residency programme in the country, observing the differences in common diseases in Singapore and in the US — which explains why certain elements of the US-styled residency programme may not work well here. For instance, diseases like diabetes and dengue haemorrhagic fever are more commonly observed in Singapore than in the US.

According to Singapore Medical Council Associate Professor, Mr Chen Fun Gee, “doctors are learning about diseases that are not really important in Singapore. For example, we don’t see Rocky Mountain fever here. There’s no point in us chasing them because I have never seen one case myself.”

Speaking at the National University of Singapore, where about 400 doctors took the Physician’s Pledge, Mr Chee further highlighted that the implementation and adaptation (of the residency programme) should be executed “step-by step. He also expressed the need to work closely with professional bodies and doctors by listening to their feedbacks – “to acknowledge concerns of the medical fraternity, and to consider the impact of the changes from a holistic systems perspective.”

General practices: Geared towards a better holistic patient care

In the meantime, the MOH has also taken concrete measures to urge more young doctors to work in more general fields of specialisation. One in five residency places offered this year was for family medicine, advanced internal medicine or geriatrics, as compared to only 12% of the total number residency openings for these disciplines in 2013.

With these disciplines, patients with multiple medical conditions would not need to seek medical attention from more than one specialist. Hence, doctors in these disciplines could be on a higher demand over time – in view of the greying population in the nation would need doctors who can manage a myriad of health problems, and advise patients on when they should seek specialist input.

Rules and policies for nurses will be reviewed to expand their roles, too

MOH will review its rules and policies for nurses to take on more complex duties besides expanding their roles.
MOH will review its rules and policies for nurses to take on more complex duties besides expanding their roles.

Mr Chee later echoed that the MOH would be reviewing its rules and policies to expand the role of nurses – for them to take on more complex duties. He has expressed the importance of “allowing all groups of professionals to practise at the top of their license” – to “maximise the potential and contributions of our healthcare workforce”.

Adding to that, the ministry is planning on allowing advanced practise nurses, pharmacists and doctors to prescribe medication together with doctors. MIMS

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