Giving practical advice and offering emotional support to patients and their family members is part and parcel of Ms Audrey Hii’s job as a senior medical social worker.
This aspect of her work helps patients who may have emotional issues or face challenges coping with lifestyle adjustments due to their medical conditions, such as diabetes and dementia, and also supports their family members who may suffer from caregiver stress as a result.
In addition, the 38-year-old collaborates with government and social service agencies, as well as navigates through complex policies and resources, to support patients to receive help for their financial, employment and accommodation needs.
For instance, she links patients up with the Financial Counselling Services team to request financial assistance to pay for polyclinic medical bills, and does home visits to reach out to bed-bound patients who are unable to visit the polyclinics.
Understanding patients’ needs
Together with other healthcare providers such as doctors, nurses and allied health professionals, Ms Hii works in the primary care setting to care for patients. Primary care professionals, who are often the patients’ initial point of contact in the healthcare system, provide them with holistic and personalised care.
She divides her time between Jurong Polyclinic and Queenstown Polyclinic which are part of a network of clinics known as the National University Polyclinics (NUP).
Before joining the healthcare sector, Ms Hii, who has a bachelor’s degree in counselling psychology with honours from Universiti Malaysia Sabah, worked as a social worker at a family service centre.
For about six years, she handled issues related to marriages, parenting, family conflicts and mental health during her work there. While working at the family service centre, Ms Hii also pursued a Graduate Diploma in Social Work from Singapore University of Social Sciences (formerly known as UniSIM).
Later on, when she was working at NUP, Ms Hii pursued a Graduate Diploma in Counselling Practice from Counselling and Care Centre.
The difference between her past and current job is that she now attends to patients who also suffer from medical issues, on top of emotional or mental ones.
She says: “Having an illness contributes additional stress to a family that is already in crisis; it impacts family relationships emotionally, physically and financially.
“I enjoy a rewarding career and it takes a specific mentality to be able to understand disease journeys and how they affect the body, and then to connect them to patients’ day-to-day challenges.”
Difficulties arise when community resources are limited, and patients have to undergo means-testing to ascertain if they qualify to receive help.
In such cases, the wait for an answer can be frustrating for the patients and their families. But she does not give up hope to look for alternative solutions.
This is where Ms Hii recognises that building relationships and rapport with others is as important as understanding patients’ challenges.
After all, medical social workers need to be open to networking with others in the community to find the best help possible for patients and their families.
Bukit Panjang Polyclinic, which is managed by the National University Polyclinics, is on a recruitment drive before it opens later this year. Graduates with social work qualifications accredited by the Singapore Association of Social Workers are welcome to apply. Visit www.nup.com.sg for more information.