The work of Singapore's doctors and nurses will become increasingly challenging, with chronic diseases becoming more common and new infectious diseases emerging, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said yesterday.

Singapore must remain "nimble and vigilant" to provide its people with good health care - especially because its population is growing and ageing, he added.

However "technical competence and medical excellence alone is insufficient to cope with these challenges," he pointed out, saying that a strong sense of empathy, teamwork, public service ethos and professionalism were just as important.

Mr Gan was speaking at a commencement ceremony before 373 graduands from the National University of Singapore's Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine and Alice Lee Centre for Nursing Studies.

He lauded the NUS for starting a voluntary programme in 2011 to encourage medical students to visit patients in their homes.

The longitudinal patient experience programme sees students befriend patients with chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure or diabetes and meet them in their homes for follow-ups throughout their five years in medical school, while under the supervision of doctors and senior students.

They are also introduced to the patients' families and caregivers to better understand their situations.

"This is a good initiative that reinforces the very important principle of medical practice, which approaches the patient as a person," said Mr Gan, adding that the school will consider extending it to other health-care courses