New SUSS course trains psychology undergrads to coach patients on taking charge of their health

On Jan 22, NHG Polyclinics and SUSS signed a master collaboration agreement to train undergraduates in health coaching. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A new six-week course will see psychology undergraduates learn how to coach patients to take charge of improving their health.

The honours students at Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) will get guidance from professionals at the National Healthcare Group (NHG) on engaging patients to set and achieve health and wellness goals, and on customising strategies based on how ready they are to change their behaviour.

The students will also take part in simulated coaching sessions.

Said Associate Professor Chong Phui-Nah, chief executive of NHG Polyclinics and Primary Care: "A lot of times, patients tend to be very passive - they tend to go with what the clinicians advise them and they are not motivated enough to change their behaviours. So it's really important to help them modify their behaviours so that they will have greater accountability for how their health will turn out to be."

On Friday (Jan 22), NHG Polyclinics and SUSS signed a master collaboration agreement to train undergraduates in health coaching, the first such partnership between NHG Polyclinics and an academic institution in Singapore.

Professor Cheong Hee Kiat, president of SUSS, said the tie-up was timely as the current pandemic has pushed healthcare to the forefront.

"Our students who are working adults would be able to immediately put into practice what they learn in the classroom," he said.

"We hope our students would be able to inspire sustainable health practices among their patients and create a ripple effect on the wider community."

Dr Emily Ortega, head of the psychology programme at SUSS, recounted her own learning experience as a motivation behind the agreement.

"Back then, there were very limited opportunities for psychology in the healthcare industry... and the theory-to-practice gap was immense. I strongly believe we needed to transform the way that we teach our psychology," she said.

The module is jointly developed by NHG's Primary Care Academy and SUSS, and there are plans to offer it to a wider group, including working professionals, by 2023.

Five students have enrolled in the first intake.

One of them is Ms Christine Ng, a flight attendant who felt health psychology is underexplored and hopes to help others lead healthier lives.

Another student, Mr Rajkirren Rajendran, 27, hopes it will help those with chronic illnesses like asthma manage their health.

"It has always baffled me as to why people are sometimes ignorant of the magnitude to their chronic illnesses and why they neglect it sometimes," said Mr Rajkirren, who has asthma and a chronic eye condition himself.

Mr Muhammad Firdaus Zulkfle, 25, who is also taking the course, hopes to help prevent the onset of chronic diseases, especially when many are working from home.

"People are living more sedentary lifestyles. Maybe through this module, I can better understand the connections between living a sedentary lifestyle and the development of chronic diseases," he said.

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