Healthcare is a calling that speaks profoundly to those who wish to devote themselves to improving the health and wellbeing of others. A nurse through and through, Dr Catherine Koh embodies this by dedicating her entire professional life towards caring for patients.
As Chief Nurse at the National University Hospital (NUH), Dr Koh's role is to direct and influence nursing care and services. Along with her team, she manages over 40 nursing units – including inpatient wards, intensive care units, and operating theatres – while overseeing practice standards and professional development of close to 3,600 staff.
She takes some time out of her busy schedule to tell us all about her exciting career in nursing along with all the ups and downs one can expect from the healthcare sector.
What inspired you to go into the healthcare industry?
Dr Catherine Koh: My study interest during school days had always been the triple sciences, especially Biology. I also had some volunteering and helping experiences in hospitals, and working with vulnerable children and those with special needs.
After my 'A' Levels, knowing that I was totally averse to a desk-bound job, nursing appealed to me as a career that provides plenty of opportunities for human interactions with people from all walks of life. I was simply attracted by the fact that nurses spend the most time with patients and play an important role in their treatment and journey to recovery.
What challenges have you faced at work?
Dr Koh: One major challenge is in educating and empowering our patients and the public. As Singapore becomes more globalised, the expectations of our consumers have also increased. Healthcare professionals need to constantly balance 'customer' service while improving the ability of patients and their families to handle self-care. In NUH, we strive to educate our patients and involve their family, so that they may take ownership of their health and care for themselves effectively to prevent future complications.
Tell us about some of the more memorable episodes you have had in your career.
Dr Koh: The thing that stands out for me most is the feeling of happiness and accomplishment after forming deep connections with my patients. Being a breast cancer nurse specialist brought immense meaning to my clinical career, as I was there to journey with a fellow human being through her darkest and scariest moments in life. It is an indescribable experience to literally be a life buoy to another person when nobody else, not even their family, can understand what they are going through better than I. Clinical nursing work remains my passion till today, and I hope to go back to it after fulfilling my commitment as Chief Nurse.
Dr Catherine Koh
National University Hospital
What development opportunities can healthcare scholars expect?
Dr Koh: Before commencing studies, scholars go through a Healthcare Induction Course and Induction Camp which focuses on training leadership skills and team building. It is an opportunity for them to bond with fellow healthcare scholars, understand the overview of public healthcare, and engage in a dialogue session with top MOH management.
During their studies, scholars undergo vacation attachments at their respective public healthcare institute. They will also be able to attend Student Exchange Programmes, Training, Seminars, Conferences, and Community Involvement Programmes.
Lastly, upon graduation, scholars will be placed under the MOH/MOHH Clusters' talent management framework, where they will be involved in a re-entry workshop and Healthcare Leadership Milestone Programmes at significant junctures of their careers.
What new developments can fresh graduates look forward to in the healthcare industry?
Dr Koh: Healthcare is no longer just about hospitals and caring for sick people, it is about promoting health and preventing illness. Especially in a rapidly ageing population, the focus is now on keeping our Singapore population healthy in the community and keeping them out of the hospital for as long as possible.
Instead of the usual thinking of specialising in the various clinical disciplines, we will need fresh graduates with a new mindset to look at care in a more holistic and comprehensive manner. Instead of treating or caring from an 'illness' or 'medical condition' point of view, we need to acquire knowledge and skills in empowering our population to manage their health and lead a productive life. The orientation in healthcare is now to increase the health literacy of our population through education and enabling, and reduce dependency on healthcare providers.
What advice would you have for aspiring healthcare scholars?
Dr Koh: Think about what motivates you and what holds meaning for you. In times of doubt and frustration, your commitment to what you consider as important will determine if you will stay and do well in the profession.
At the same time, if you want to be adventurous, the healthcare profession will open many doors to a fulfilling and meaningful career. A career in healthcare is more than just a job – it gives you the opportunity to impact lives and the future of Singapore's healthcare.