Alex Soh received a Healthcare Merit Award to study a Master of Pharmacy at University College London. He made a mid-career switch to operations and is currently a manager in Group Care Plan Operations at NUHS. Alex will be reading an MBA at INSEAD, supported by the Healthcare Talent Scholarship.
People typically describe "healthcare" as a "system", and that is exactly what it is. It is made up of various components that collectively deliver an integrated and seamless experience for patients, and is robust enough able to withstand extreme contingencies.
In Singapore, MOH Holdings (MOHH) works together with the Ministry of Health and public healthcare institutions to support and maintain the high standards of the local system. The multi-faceted nature of the sector has also provided various career opportunities for young people like Alex Soh.
Alex has had many roles within healthcare from being a pharmacist at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital to using his analytical skills at the Group Plan Care Operations at the National University Health Systems (NUHS). Switching roles can be a challenge for most people, but with a bit of verve, the passion to serve and the unwavering support of your organisation, anything is possible.
A Scholarly Start
Alex was keen to join healthcare and he especially wanted to be a pharmacist.
"I was first attracted to public healthcare because the work seemed really meaningful and dynamic with opportunities to interact with a diverse group of colleagues and patients. This curiosity prompted me to sign up for an attachment with Changi General Hospital," said Alex, who had just finished his GCE A-levels at Victoria Junior College in 2008.
His rotation in the Pharmacy department left the deepest impression on him.
"Though the work was hectic, their strong sense of camaraderie and dedication prevailed and made the busyness fun! The experience helped me envision myself thriving in that work environment, eventually culminating in a decision to pursue Pharmacy."
His discovery of the Healthcare Merit Award (HMA) was also very timely. After realising that the HMA provided full sponsorship for an overseas education, as well as structured career development and employment upon graduation, he immediately put his name to paper. And with that, he was on his way to pursue his undergraduate studies – a Master of Pharmacy at University College London (UCL).
Beyond the Classroom
Earning a degree is par for the course for any scholar. Alex, though, gained a lot more than just a piece of paper. Apart from broadening his perspectives through travelling across the continent, he also took the chance to put together ground-up community initiatives while studying in the United Kingdom.
"Serving as Vice President and Treasurer of the UCL Floorball Club, which had more than a dozen nationalities, challenged me to adapt my leadership style accordingly," he said. More notably, he started the Singapore Healthcare Societies and served as the President for the Singapore Healthcare Society (SHS UK Chapter), which was previously called Singapore Allied Health Professionals Society. Alex and his team organised networking and professional events that united and rallied Singaporean healthcare students.
He said with a beaming smile: "The most rewarding aspect of starting the society was witnessing the community of Allied Health Professionals becoming more cohesive and tight-knit. This could only happen because future batches of the SHS UK Executive Committee gamely took up the mantle and continued to further the society's mission."
A Pharmacist by Training
Upon graduation, he returned to the fast-paced, collaborative environment that attracted him to the healthcare sector in the first place. As a trained Pharmacist, he had to be extra careful when administering medication knowing that a mistake could be potentially fatal for his patients. At times, he also had to be a customer service officer and a mediator.
"When I was the Outpatient Pharmacy Floor Manager, I saw a caregiver shouting at a pre-registration Pharmacist. I intervened to calm the caregiver down. The whole incident highlighted the need for pharmacists to have negotiation skills and situational awareness," said Alex.
"I often derived my daily motivation with a reminder that not many people out there have the same skillsets I do to make a significant impact on the patient care experience. The acknowledgement of this privileged position motivates me to always put my best foot forward every day."
As he gained experience as a Pharmacist, he went on to pursue more non-clinical roles, such as new product sourcing and even event organisation. He also had the chance to optimise processes and workflows.
That was when he had an epiphany, and decided to contribute to healthcare in a different way.
Alex explained his thought process: "As I supported NUHS cluster-level projects outside Pharmacy as part of my professional development, I realised that I had the interest, capability and personal fit for a healthcare management role. I could also contribute in unique ways to the development and sharpening of healthcare strategies at the systems level by leveraging on my Pharmacy operations background and frontline experience."
"It became clear that by transiting from Pharmacy to Group Care Plan Operations, I had a stronger value proposition to the organisation as a whole."
Taking the Next Big Step
However the learning does not stop there. Alex was exposed to new areas of work such as digital transformation, healthcare information management and cost control, and how to manage patients' expectations.
He saw the need to imbue himself with more knowledge and successfully applied to the MBA programme at INSEAD, thanks to the Healthcare Talent Scholarship, MOHH's prestigious in-service programme for capable and talented administrators, AHPs, pharmacists and nurses with a passion to pursue a career in healthcare administration, management and leadership.
Said Alex: "I wanted to acquire a strong business management toolkit to accelerate my impact on public healthcare. The Insead MBA provides a good foundation in accounting, finance, economics, strategy, operations and leadership."
He added: "Furthermore, I was attracted to INSEAD MBA because of its cultural diversity of over 90 nationalities in each cohort. Such an international learning environment will enable me to gain global perspectives and hone my soft skills as we are expected to constantly think on our feet and communicate effectively to negotiate and influence."
His goal is to influence systemic healthcare improvements, and play a pivotal role in addressing challenges faced by the sector.
One for the Future
Alex's journey as a healthcare scholar proves that public healthcare nurtures talent, giving young men and women opportunities to contribute to the advancement of patient care.
"We should dare to think beyond the expected norms or mundane activities that we encounter daily," he advised prospective healthcare scholars. "Sometimes this may make us appear like a ‘fool', but by doing so, you will be surprised to discover that many things can indeed be improved and that you can be the long-awaited catalyst for change in your healthcare domain.