Admissions Blog

We speak to a group of MD students to learn more about a health screen they conducted last year.

By: Jonathan Caleb Quek, Bhavya Allena, Patrisha C. Lazatin and Aditya Subramaniam

screening migrant workers duke-nus

Screening migrant workers

Tell us more about the health screen your college is involved in.

Mediserve is a health screen for migrant workers held on 13 May 2017 in Tai Seng Community Centre. We, then first year medical students from Benjamin Sheares College, organised the screen in partnership with HealthServe and Paya Lebar Methodist Church. Our seniors guided us in the planning process and oversaw the consultations that we had with the patients.

Apart from the help from our college masters, Prof Paul Michael Yen and Dr Yong Wei Sean, we were also fortunate enough to work with the HealthServe team and two volunteer doctors from Paya Lebar Methodist Church, Dr Yvonne Loh, a regular volunteer doctor at the HealthServe Geylang clinic, and Dr Tang Choon Leong - who incidentally used to be a Benjamin Sheares College master.

Why serve migrant workers?

We chose to focus on helping migrant workers because of the many challenges that they face. This includes, but is not limited to: access to healthcare, fair work hours, poor living conditions and the issue of social integration. Limited access to healthcare remains a significant problem with no adequate solution in sight.

Because of the nature of their jobs (for e.g.: repeated physical manoeuvres and contact with skin irritants like chemicals or cement), musculoskeletal and skin conditions often arise. As foreigners, migrant workers are subject to paying higher rates for medical treatment. They also face the risk of being sent back to their home countries should they be found to have an infectious disease and/or are deemed unfit for work by their employers.

To make matters worse, many are denied medical insurance/treatment by errant employers who do not abide by official policies. Many of these workers with occupation-related conditions often go untreated, leading to further exacerbation and complications.

What was the experience like?

We were able to screen over 100 patients who live in the surrounding dormitories in Tai Seng, as well as some who lived further out. We saw the importance of maintaining trust in a doctor-patient relationship as we advocated for their health with their best interest at heart. It was also heart-warming to have the migrant workers share their struggles and troubles with us.

Everyone worked hard to give their best, from the planning, setup, to the actual consultations.

Would you share a personal story you heard about?

During one of my encounters with these migrants, a patient, Ali (name changed for anonymity), told me that he had diabetes. It was difficult to find a solution for him as there were limited supplies of medications available for diabetes in the clinic and these would be relatively costly for a migrant worker. Nonetheless, I measured his vitals and conversed with him in simple English, learning about his life, current situation and family back home in Bangladesh.

Ali earned a monthly wage of several hundred dollars, which he used to support his own and his brother’s family (as his brother was ill) – a total of seven people back home. On top of that, he had to pay off his agent fees which brought him here. Apart from diabetes, he also had some work-related injuries at that point in time which he had difficulty getting compensations for. As a result, he was out of work.

Personally, it was sobering to hear the extent of the challenges and associated problems that the migrants might experience when they work in Singapore. These are easily overlooked as we go about our comfortable daily lives. This encounter further inspired me to do my part to serve migrant workers here.

How do you think this will benefit you as a future doctor?

In medical school, we sometimes concentrate on individual parts too much and experience a bit of a collective amnesia, in the sense that we forget the whole picture. As doctors we should treat a patient as a person with their own aegis, and not just a disease that we have to subject to the treatments science says is best. In our efforts to learn pathology, anatomy, pharmacology and all the other -ologies in the world, we become so focused on the science that we tend to forget the art of medicine which is basically humanity.

Coming to this screening, we were all jolted out of that amnesia and taken right back to the core of why we’re here, and why we’re doing this—to be doctors for others, to be first and foremost, doctors who are at the service of the patient, doctors who are trying to make life a little better. For without patients, doctors have no purpose to exist.

We saw that not every treatment was feasible for the migrant workers, and we could not expect patients to change their lifestyles too drastically. Many of them have difficulty affording treatment, and healthier diets and lifestyles. It meant that we had to be creative and flexible in the way we managed and counselled our patients.

Being able to learn about their situations first-hand made a difference because it taught us compassion – one of the most important tools a doctor has to have.

Duke-NUS, Healthserve, and Paya Lebar Methodist Church

The team from Duke-NUS, Healthserve, and Paya Lebar Methodist Church