Speech by President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the Singapore Medical Association Annual Dinner, 16 May 2015

Dr Wong Tien Hua

President of the Singapore Medical Association

Members of the Association

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen


Good evening

I am pleased to be here this evening and greatly honoured to be conferred the Singapore Medical Association (SMA) Honorary Membership.  As our nation celebrates its Golden Jubilee this year, I would like to take this opportunity to share a few thoughts, as your new member, on the important role the Association has played, and what it can do moving forward to further advance the interests of both the medical profession and the public at large.

Since 1959, SMA has represented the majority of medical practitioners in both the public and private healthcare sectors.  The Association has supported healthcare professionals through the years by sharing up-to-date advisories and healthcare advancements, conducting courses and providing resources for training of medical students. 

Singapore is undergoing demographic transition at a rapid pace.  In the year 2000, the number of Singapore residents aged 65 years and above stood at just over 230,000.  In 2014, the number had surpassed 430,000, with the year-on-year growth rate reaching close to 7%.

A greying society is proof of the sustained peace and stability of our nation, as well as the contributions made by the medical profession to improve the health and well-being of our people.  Older persons have much to offer.   Their experiences and knowledge are a rich resource that would help us in finding workable solutions to new and emerging challenges that confront us.   Employers are encouraged to recognise the latent potential of older workers to nurture and guide younger colleagues. 

However an older population brings its challenges.  On the medical front, cancer, chronic disease and dementia have become more prevalent.  We are adding capacity to manage the health needs of older patients, who take longer to recover and who are at higher risk of medical complications. To help Singaporeans age healthily, the government is exploring preventive strategies to improve population health.

It is now timely to reassess the role of the Association in the face of this demographic change.  We need to increase emphasis on primary and family care and renew support for the field of geriatric medicine.  This is the right direction to go.  Families represent the basic building blocks of our society, and primary care a foundational piece of any healthcare system.  The stronger ties between primary care providers and the patients they serve will produce better outcomes and allow for more sustainable health care spending. Where patient needs are complex, we should provide greater support in the community so that patients can cut down on trips to the tertiary hospital.

Over the past ten years, we have expanded our capacity to train more doctors who can help meet the demands of an ageing population.  Young graduates from the National University of Singapore Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, and Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School are entering the workforce.  The third medical school, the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, will see its first batches of students enter the profession over the coming years.   At the same time, many senior doctors who are able and keen have chosen to serve well past the age of retirement. This mix of the young with the more experienced bodes well for the future, in the training and modelling for the young by the seniors in the science and art of holistic medicine.

This emergence of role models is critical. It impacts on how medicine is taught and practiced in wards, clinics and community. I would also encourage the Association to engage members and create opportunities for mentoring at all levels of professional development. And to all the professionals here, I urge you to lead by example and be the change you want to see.

Two years ago I spoke at an event organised by St. Joseph’s Institution (SJI) my alma mater.   Speaking to the students of SJI and its alumni, I outlined the concept of social reserves and how they accrued each time a Singaporean cared for his or her fellow man.  The medical community has a special position in the safe-guarding of social reserves. On the one hand, every clinical encounter is an opportunity to generate social capital.  Even in situations where patient needs are complex or seemingly insurmountable, it is the empathy and goodwill which makes the difference.  On the other hand, by conserving health and well-being, the medical fraternity protects this social capital against disease and disability.

It is therefore very appropriate that the Association is launching its new slogan: “For Doctors, For Patients.”  Read together with the Association’s motto - ‘Jasa Utama’ (Service First) - the new slogan refocuses the medical profession on its role in society and the shared responsibility in meeting the challenges facing our nation as we move forward.  

Once again, I thank SMA for conferring on me its Honorary Membership.  I wish you all the best in your noble task of helping to look after the health needs of our nation.