Aspiring docs told to go for family medicine

Mr Sundheep Subramani (left) from NTU's Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, seen here with students Ng Guan Yee (centre) from Duke-NUS Medical School and Ong Seeu Kun from National University of Singapore's Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, says all wo
Mr Sundheep Subramani (left) from NTU's Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, seen here with students Ng Guan Yee (centre) from Duke-NUS Medical School and Ong Seeu Kun from National University of Singapore's Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, says all would-be doctors will most likely have to become generalists.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

S'pore needs more doctors with general skills, capabilities, says Health Ministry director

The role of the family physician is set to become more important, said the Health Ministry's director of medical services, Associate Professor Benjamin Ong.

In urging medical students to consider family medicine as a career, he said a smaller percentage of each cohort will become specialists.

Speciality practice, he said, will be less relevant as "many more doctors will need breadth and depth, and general professional skills and capabilities".

Speaking at the first National Medical Students' Convention yesterday, Prof Ong told some 210 aspiring doctors that their career goals, competency development and maintenance should address society's needs.

"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 speciality primarily because it gives us a good work-life balance."

The event at Marina Bay Sands discussed issues that will impact how future doctors practise medicine, and was part of the Singapore Medical Week hosted by the Singapore Medical Association (SMA).

 
 
 

Prof Ong outlined the demands of an ageing population and tighter manpower resources.

He said the development of Singapore's healthcare system has been largely focused on acute hospitals and speciality centres delivering specialised, episodic care, although the Government had also invested in the set-up and enhancement of polyclinics across the island.

"Even though acute care will continue to be an important part of our healthcare system, the growing health needs of our ageing population, with an increase in healthcare costs, make the current hospital-centric model increasingly unsustainable."

The number of Singaporeans aged 65 and older is projected to double to 900,000, or one in four people, by 2030, he said.

And an ageing population will spark an increase in chronic disease burden, which will not only be larger but also more complex to manage because patients are likely to have multiple medical conditions.

"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," he said.

As a result, Prof Ong said effective care is now team-based, with the doctor being a member of an inter-professional team.

SMA president Wong Tien Hua, who spoke at the event as well, stressed the importance of "collegiality"too.

Prof Ong said the training of more family physicians is one of the Health Ministry's key commitments because of the central role they play in community-based care. Family physicians in primary care settings are also at the front line of defence for public health threats, such as last year's Zika outbreak.

For those training to be specialists, he said there will be a shift in emphasis towards developing the more generalist disciplines, as well as those with greater roles in the community such as internal, geriatric and rehabilitation medicine.

Mr Sundheep Subramani, 24, a fourth-year student at Nanyang Technological University's Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, said that while he wanted to be a surgeon when he began medical school, his view has shifted. "There's always the thought of generalist care over specialist care, given all the chronic diseases that we have today. Patients are no longer going to just one doctor to see him for one condition. We're most likely going to have to become generalists, all of us."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 27, 2017, with the headline 'Aspiring docs told to go for family medicine'. Print Edition | Subscribe