Injury and illness do not only leave our physical bodies weak but often take a toll on our mental and emotional states as well. We may feel lost, unsure of what to do and unable to cope with everything that is happening around us.
This is where Medical Social Workers (MSWs) come into the picture. Working as a member of the multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals, MSWs help guide patients through their treatments. They help patients cope with their medical, social, psychological, and financial needs, giving them the support to get well again.
We speak to 28-year-old Cassandra Ang to find out more about the intricacies of this respected profession – medical social work.
Why did you decide to join the healthcare sector?
Cassandra Ang: I was inspired by my sister. She would often relate her interactions with MSWs throughout the course of her work as an occupational therapist. Her stories piqued my interest, so I decided to explore the healthcare sector and the work of a medical social worker. Subsequently, I was fortunate to be given the scholarship by Tan Tock Seng Hospital, and thus made up my mind to join as a MSW.
What are your roles and responsibilities as an MSW?
Cassandra: My responsibilities include assessing patients and their family members’ physical, psychological and social needs, and other factors such as the potential of risk to self or others. Another key function is to provide guidance on financial aid and/or access to health and social services. You can say that I am like a bridge, linking the patients with relevant care providers and community resources. For patients who are grieving over their loss of health and their loved ones, grief and bereavement counselling is provided where necessary to help them to make sense of their losses and cope better in living with their illness. Finally, where relevant, I am also a member of a team that seeks works on improvements in policies and/or services to better address the needs of our patients.
Cassandra Ang Wee Hoon
Medical Social Worker
What is one challenge you have faced at work?
Cassandra: In a hospital setting, it is inevitable to witness patients’ pain, suffering and even death. One of the unique responsibilities of an MSW include addressing the psychological, social, and spiritual needs of patients pertaining to their suffering and imminent death. Such exposures can be emotionally taxing and remind me of my own mortality.
How did you overcome this hurdle? What did you learn from it?
Cassandra: I learnt to accept the limitations to what MSWs can do, just as a doctor or a nurse cannot heal all illnesses. I became at greater peace with having no absolute answers or solutions for patients facing pain and suffering. This peace of mind has allowed me to lend them my full presence and communicate to them that it is okay to not have an answer in life.
My biggest takeaway is that it is a privilege to journey with my patients and their caregivers during their most vulnerable moments.
What would you say is the most fulfilling aspect of your job?
Cassandra: My career allows me to make a direct and tangible impact on people’s lives, and this gives me a greater sense of purpose. I know what I do can make a difference. The corporate world measures success based on profits gained, while my success is based on the number of lives I have impacted.
What qualities should all healthcare scholars possess?
Cassandra: A willing heart, a desire to learn, and a willingness to stretch your potential and limits. There is no one-size-fits-all intervention when managing patients, so your abilities are really tested as a healthcare professional. Also, the environment in the hospital is fast-paced with heavy caseloads, so you must be prepared to mount a steep learning curve.
Furthermore, do take note of the complexity of the healthcare system you will be part of. It is vital to keep in mind the roles played by other professions, and draw from their strengths and expertise. You have to be a great team player to collaborate and effectively deliver better care to the patients.
What advice would you have for aspiring Healthcare Scholars?
Cassandra: Apply for the Healthcare Scholarship if you are ready to take up the challenge. The opportunity to challenge yourself and impact lives will make you stronger and more resilient.
It is also important to have an established awareness of one’s purpose in life and an ability to keep your passion alive in the healthcare sector. I have been through good and tough times, but the professional development, insight and values gained have rejuvenated me and kept me going, giving me the energy to run the extra mile, time and time again.
As aptly said by Mary Rose McGeady, “There is no greater joy nor greater reward than to make a fundamental difference in someone’s life.”