An "intensive upgrade" will happen for Singapore's main training programme for general practitioners (GPs) to get certified in family medicine.

The revamp of the two-year graduate diploma in family medicine is driven by a growing need for primary-care doctors who can deal with the range of health issues that an ageing population faces.

The new curriculum is expected to feature new aspects such as transitional care and extra training specific to facilities like nursing and care homes. The curriculum will take effect next year, according to the College of Family Physicians Singapore (CFPS) who oversees the development of family medicine here.

More emphasis will also be given to caring for older people and managing patients who have recently been discharged from hospitals.

Latest review of the programme is the most extensive yet

The Ministry of Health (MOH) said it is working with the college to "review and enhance" the programme in "key areas of national priority". These include chronic disease management, geriatric care, mental health and community hospital practice, said an MOH spokesman.

The course which began in 2000, is regularly updated to keep its content current and the latest review will be the most extensive.

Associate Professor Lee Kheng Hock, president of CFPS said, "This time, we are carrying out a major upgrade where we will make the course more relevant in view of the changing needs of our community and the enhanced role of family doctors in the healthcare system."

The review is carried out by 17 senior family physicians across public and private sectors, and is expected to be completed in approximately three months.

Shift towards preventive and community healthcare necessary

Currently, about 2,600 doctors provide primary care in Singapore, with 1,750 family physicians among them as of the end of last year. The MOH spokesman said that based on preliminary projections, Singapore needs 3,500 family physicians by 2030.

In March, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong also urged for the build up of the number of family physicians to proved holistic care to patients with multiple ailments.

He said that the shift of focus towards preventive and community care is important as by 2030, the number of people aged 65 and older will double to 900,000.

To be accredited as a family physician, a doctor may obtain the graduate diploma which is a part-time course that includes workshops and case discussions.

The other path is a three-year residency offered by public healthcare groups. This is a full-time programme involving clinical rotations in various hospitals and polyclinics. Certain overseas certifications are also recognised.

Review is timely in order to address an ageing population

Many doctors such as family physician S. Suraj Kumar said the diploma course revamp is "definitely timely".

"The problems of an ageing population are already here; we have to gear up to meet the challenges," said Dr Suraj, who works at Drs Brain & Partners, a private practice.

Having completed his diploma eight years ago, the 58-year-old said it was an "important first step" in learning how to deliver more well-rounded care ̶ after which, he went on to obtain a master's degree and fellowship in family medicine.

"My level of care has improved. I became very confident in identifying problems that I might not have done previously," he added. MIMS

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