Nurturing the Healthcare Industry
By Colin Lim

Job opportunities abound in Singapore's rapidly expanding healthcare industry.

In 2007, over 400,000 international patients came to Singapore for medical treatment. Apart from being a leading medical tourism destination, Singapore is also rapidly becoming a global centre for medical research and education. The government aims to attract 1 million medical tourists by 2012, which could generate some 13,000 new jobs in the healthcare industry.

Improving Infrastructure
Singapore's importance as a premier medical hub looks set to grow, as S$900 million will be spent to upgrade healthcare infrastructure over the next five years. There are currently 28 hospitals and specialty centres here, but more have been planned to cater to growing demand. For instance, the 550-bed Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Yishun will be completed in 2010, while a new general hospital will open in Jurong before 2015. There are also plans to build more community hospitals and boost capabilities in treating chronic diseases like stroke, heart and kidney failure, as well as age-related conditions like dementia.

Major changes are also in store for existing facilities. A new Pathology Building will boost laboratory services at the Singapore General Hospital by 50%, while the Communicable Diseases Centre will be redeveloped to house a National Public Health Laboratory and an Infectious Diseases Research Centre. In February 2008, Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan revealed that integration and efficient resource management would be the main theme of other medical institutions planned for Singapore.

One main reason for the extensive expansion of infrastructure is Singapore's growing and ageing population. As Singapore's population crosses the 5.5 million mark, new medical facilities will have to be built. Longer life expectancy will also put a strain on the healthcare industry if capabilities are not expanded.

Nurturing Manpower
Naturally, more manpower will be required to operate these facilities. An additional $1 billion will be used over the next five years to recruit and train more healthcare professionals, ranging from doctors and nurses to pharmacists and physiotherapists. The government's commitment to investing in well-qualified staff essentially translates to a wealth of job opportunities for healthcare professionals all over the world.

The range of jobs available in the healthcare industry is vast. Whether you are a dietician, radiographer, podiatrist or speech therapist, your talents are bound to be sought after, as Singapore has over 2,000 healthcare establishments providing a wide spectrum of medical services. Most patients seek primary treatment at outpatient polyclinics or private medical practitioners' clinics. On the other hand, treatment for more serious ailments is provided in public and private hospitals.

Currently, there are 30,000 employees in the healthcare industry, of which more than 6,700 are medical doctors delivering quality healthcare in a dual system of public (notably SingHealth and National Healthcare Group) and private sector players. To practise as a doctor in Singapore, you first have to secure a job with one of the healthcare institutions here, followed by registering with the Singapore Medical Council. There are four types of medical registration for doctors, namely provisional, conditional, temporary or full registration. If you are a specialist, you will also need to get accredited by the Specialist Accreditation Board (SAB). Most overseas specialist training programmes in the US, UK, Canada and Australia are recognised by the SAB, so if you happen to be a medical professional who graduated from these countries, getting accredited should be a breeze.

While the demand for doctors increases, the role of nurses is changing as well. Nurses have to keep up with new technology being implemented at hospitals and clinics. At the same time, they are increasingly expected to make independent decisions when communicating with patients. Nurses must also be able to interpret and evaluate medical data, and to do this, they need to receive proper training.

This is where institutions like the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine in the National University of Singapore step in. The school offers a three-year Bachelor of Science (Nursing) Programme, which is the first full-time undergraduate nursing degree programme offered by a local tertiary institution. Applications are open to both Singaporeans and qualified foreign students.

The growth of the healthcare industry has also led to an increase in demand for pharmacists. However, there are only 0.3 practising pharmacists per 1,000 population here, the lowest among developed countries. As the current supply of local undergraduates falls below demand, the Ministry of Health is keen to recruit pharmacists from overseas. There are about 1,500 registered pharmacists here, less than half of which are involved in direct patient care such as practicising in polyclinics and retail pharmacies. Pharmacists play an increasingly important role as domain experts in drug evaluation, drug use and surveillance. To anticipate more of such healthcare professionals, there are plans to set up a Pharmacist Specialists Register here.

Medical Research
Money is also being pumped into developing teaching and research facilities here, as Singapore is increasingly recognised as a hub for advanced medical care and research. Current areas of expertise include orthopedics, neurology and cardiology. There are more than 80 healthcare companies based here, which are helping to establish Singapore's global credentials in clinical trials, pharmaceuticals research and more. Today, 11 of the world's leading pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies (such as Wyeth, Abbott, and GSK Biologicals) have set up base in Singapore, with more than 25 manufacturing facilities already in place and seven more in the pipeline. These investments will broaden the scope of the local healthcare industry and generate numerous job opportunities along the way. The recent establishment of the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School will also produce a growing pool of medical researchers that will help Singapore to continue developing medical breakthroughs in the future.

Judging from its plans to invest in infrastructure, manpower and research, it is clear that the government is doing all that it can to grow the healthcare industry. The growth of this sector presents tremendous opportunities for medical professionals to explore the varied fields of healthcare delivery and services, teaching and medical research.

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