'There's no job like social work'

Ms Lee's job involves helping patients to obtain financial assistance and making care arrangements for them after discharge.
Ms Lee's job involves helping patients to obtain financial assistance and making care arrangements for them after discharge. ST PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN

When she was a 19-year-old student, Ms Marian Lee decided to join a social work orientation camp. It was a decision that would map out her career.

The camp took her to places that showed a different side to the Singapore she thought she knew.

For instance, she saw four to five people crammed into one- or two-room rental flats.

"The rental flats in Bukit Ho Swee were dark, gloomy and stuffy and I knew then that I wanted to help people, but in an informed way so that the whole system can be improved," said Ms Lee, 25, who is now a medical social worker at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital.

Her job involves arranging financial assistance and making care arrangements for patients after they are discharged. She also works with patients who have lost their mental capacity due to stroke or dementia and do not have family members to manage their affairs.

"It is very satisfying work to help these patients because, when they come in, they are already in a vulnerable position due to illness, yet they still have to navigate the system and many of them are at a loss as to what to do," said Ms Lee.

Her extended family was surprised when she chose this profession because they equated social work with volunteer work which meant little or no pay.

"But to me, there is no job like social work that will enable one to build relationships with people to effect change," said Ms Lee.

Mr Chua Yi Heng, 37, made the same choice to become a medical social worker after working as a paramedic in the civil defence force for 12 years.

Though he no longer handles emergencies such as people having heart attacks or getting involved in road accidents, he finds his work at St Andrew's Community Hospital equally challenging and rewarding.

"There is something new to learn every day because psycho-social problems can be complex and I enjoy that continuous learning," he said.

The pay cut he would have to take did not deter him from entering the field.

"The intrinsic reward of doing work that is meaningful by helping people directly was more important to me," he said.

He quit his job four years ago and went to get a taste of social work by running activities for adults with intellectual disabilities at the Association for Persons with Special Needs.

After that, he went back to school to get a graduate diploma in social work via the professional conversion programme, the main scheme for mid-career entrants.

Upon graduating last October, he was hired by St Andrew's as a medical social worker. "I have no regrets about making the switch," he said.

Janice Tai

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2016, with the headline 'There's no job like social work'. Subscribe