Left: HPB Overseas Merit Undergraduate Scholar Yeo Zhiling, Jo-Ann, is a Senior Manager at the Policy & Strategy Development department, responsible for Singapore's food-related policies. She holds a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences (Honours) from University College London and is pursuing a Master of Public Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health on HPB Staff Scholarship
Right: Huang Xuewen is a recipient of the HPB Local Merit Mid-term Undergraduate Scholarship and holds a Bachelor of Social Sciences with Honours (Highest Distinction) in Psychology from NUS. As a Senior Manager at the Research and Development (R&D) department, he works on Health Insights Singapore (hiSG), a research study that collects and analyses health data through wearable technology.
Established in 2001, HPB is a government organisation committed to promoting healthy living in Singapore by formulating and implementing health policies and programmes that improve the nation’s health. HPB also seeks to empower Singaporeans with knowledge and skills to make informed decisions about their health and lead a healthy lifestyle.
With a passion for public health, Scholars Jo-Ann and Xuewen joined HPB to take up the challenge in urging hope to push the boundaries Singaporeans take their next healthy step forward. Let’s hear their stories.
To start off, let’s talk about how you become interested in public health as a career.
Jo-Ann: I decided to pursue a career in public health right after my A-Levels results. As a 19-year-old then, I hoped that my career could be more than a paycheck. I wanted to help improve the health of communities and contribute to policies, strategies and programmes that give people better access to healthy living. With this objective in mind, my foray into public health was an obvious choice.
Xuewen: It started with my passion for psychology. When I was a student, if I had a chance to select a project with a topic of our choice, I would always do something related to psychology, such as projects on memory and sleep deprivation. While deliberating on my choice of courses in university, my top two choices were psychology and engineering, and eventually I went along with my passion and chose psychology! Then, I began researching possible career paths and zeroed in on public health. To me, it was an immensely compelling and meaningful career path - being able to improve the health of Singaporeans at a population level.
Both of you joined HPB via its Undergraduate Scholarships. How did you find out about the scholarship and what were the factors that influenced your decision?
Jo-Ann: I found out about the HPB Overseas Undergraduate Scholarship through BrightSparks channels – magazine, website and scholarship fairs held at my Junior College. HPB is Singapore’s key health promotion agency with the capacity, expertise and mandate to implement national programmes and policies. Joining HPB will then give me the opportunity to be at the forefront of addressing Singapore’s public health issues and make a large-scale difference in the lives of Singaporeans.
Xuewen: Well, I was already in my first year of university when I chanced upon HPB scholarships on a brochure. If I had found out about the HPB scholarship earlier, I would have applied for its full-term scholarship!
HPB was one of the organisations that offered scholarships to students pursuing Psychology majors, and its vision to build a nation of healthy people resonated with me. In fact, it even propelled me to take up a Minor in Public Health.
What type of support did you receive from HPB during your studies?
Jo-Ann: HPB supported my choice of study wholeheartedly even though the Bachelor of Arts and Sciences (BASc) that I chose to study at University College London was a new interdisciplinary degree in its first year. I am grateful for HPB’s support as my BASc degree has prepared me well for the interdisciplinary demands of my current work!
Xuewen: The summer internship at HPB allowed me to meet other HPB scholars. We remained in touch throughout the school term, and helped one another out in our studies, such as sharing notes and textbooks, and forming study groups when we had common modules. This camaraderie has extended beyond our university days and helped me hit the ground running when I joined HPB after graduation.
Tell us about your current job role and responsibilities at HPB.
Jo-Ann: I am in the Policy & Strategy Development department, where I conceptualise, design, implement and evaluate food-related policies for Singapore. Currently, my main project is the introduction of regulatory policies to reduce sugar intake in beverages. I feel so honoured to be part of this team to introduce the regulatory measures for pre-packaged beverages. Consumers can then be provided with the nutrition information to make informed choices for a healthier lifestyle.
Xuewen: I am part of the data management team and the planning team in the Research and Development (R&D) department. We are responsible for Health Insights Singapore (hiSG), a research platform that has been developed to collect and analyse continuous health data from participants using smart wearable devices. In addition, I also help to design and plan studies that are nested on the hiSG platform, such as working through study design and ethics requirements, as well as guiding the data analyses for the studies. The current study I am working on is related to mental health, which allows me to tap into my domain expertise.
What is HPB’s work culture like?
Jo-Ann: A place that encourages innovation, pushes the boundaries, and welcomes new challenges.
Xuewen: A growth-oriented culture. Staff are encouraged to rotate between departments for their growth. When I expressed interest to take up a Data Management role, the department head accepted me even though I did not have the necessary skill to meet the job’s technical requirements. My colleagues were patient in guiding me and I was able to attend courses to help me in my new role!
Before we end, can you share some words of encouragement with those aspiring to join HPB?
Jo-Ann: If you like to be at the forefront of preventive health and encourage Singaporeans towards better health, HPB is the place for you! There’s truly a wide range of “causes” (or work) that you can be involved in, from reaching out to children and youths, impacting communities to engaging employers.
Xuewen: HPB gave me an opportunity for a meaningful career where I can make a difference in the lives of Singaporeans and learn new skills. Come, join us if this resonates with you!