Childhood cancer survivor becomes community care provider under job redesign initiative

Mr Iylia Haidhar Zulkepli, 30, now works as a community care associate at Ren Ci Hospital. Before joining the sector, he worked in photography and videography, as well as food delivery. PHOTO: REN CI HOSPITAL

SINGAPORE - When he was 14, Iylia Haidhar Zulkepli found a tumour in his neck.

It turned out to be stage 3 cancer. He then had to undergo intense rounds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy over a month.

It took the Secondary 2 student three months to fully regain his health.

But what stayed with him was how well the healthcare staff took care of him, and he emerged from his ordeal with a better understanding of how stressful - yet worthwhile - healthcare jobs can really be.

Mr Iylia, now 30, works as a community care associate at Ren Ci Hospital, having joined in March.

He is among those who have taken up the job redesign initiative launched by the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) last year, aimed at those contemplating a mid-career switch to the community care sector.

The initiative was piloted last year with four participating community care organisations - St Luke's Eldercare, Ren Ci Hospital, NTUC Health and St Andrew's Community Hospital.

Given its success, more community care organisations will now be invited to come on board, said Senior Minister of State for Health and Manpower Koh Poh Koon on Thursday (Sept 23).

He was giving an update on the scheme during his speech at the Community Care Manpower Development Award (CCMDA) virtual ceremony, which was organised by AIC.

Mr Iylia had previously worked in photography and videography, as well as food delivery, before he joined the community care sector.

He said: "It might look like I'm diving into deep waters, but because I have a goal and motivation, nothing is holding me back from joining community care. All the things I've learnt so far, I can teach my family and friends, so we can better care for the elderly."

He added: "I gave also thought about how my mother might need care in her golden years and I didn't want to be unprepared. She was also the one who advised me to join healthcare back when I finished my O levels years ago, as it is a secure career path."

On Thursday, more than 160 people received the CCMDA, which provides new joiners and current community care staff with training support and opportunities to pursue and grow their careers.

Since the CCMDA was launched in 2017, more than 550 awards have been given out. This year's number is the largest yet.

Dr Koh said there is growing recognition and interest in the sector, particularly among young Singaporeans. The sector aims to help seniors live well and age gracefully at home and in the community.

"We hope that many more will come to know about the community care sector, and also choose to pursue a fulfilling career in this sector with its wide array of job opportunities," said he added.

One young undergraduate with plans to join the community care sector is Ms Tan Hui Yi, 22, a fourth-year social work student at the National University of Singapore, who applied for the CCMDA in February.

Ms Tan Hui Yi, 22, was inspired by community care initiatives in other countries such as Japan. PHOTO: LEE AH MOOI OLD AGE HOME

Recipients of the award can attend training programmes for free, which are co-funded by CCMDA and the hiring community care provider.

Upon graduation in December, Ms Tan will join Lee Ah Mooi Old Age Home as a medical social worker.

When asked why she decided to join the community care sector, she said: "I felt that a lot of people fear being admitted into a nursing home, so I was thinking about how I can use my skills and knowledge from social work to make nursing homes a more inviting place for older persons in Singapore."

She added that she was inspired by community care initiatives in other countries such as Japan. For instance, to allow seniors to continue to connect with the community, one nursing home there set up a cafe that was both open to members of the community and nursing home residents.

"That is a space that allows them to be in touch with others in the community. This is an interesting concept that community care and nursing homes in Singapore can adopt," she said.

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