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A chat with Dr Alethea Yee from National Cancer Centre Singapore
16 September 2015

We had an interview with Dr Alethea Yee, Head and Senior Consultant at the Division of Palliative Medicine in National Cancer Centre Singapore. Read on and find out what she says about being in the palliative care industry and working with HCA Hospice Care.

Palliative care started with a handful of like-minded individuals. After its recognition by the Ministry of Health, the number of palliative care medical professionals significantly increased. With the ageing population in Singapore, the importance of palliative care is greatly taken into consideration. HCA Hospice Care receives 8 to 10 referrals a day from different hospitals.

How did you find passion in palliative care?

My work as a palliative care consultant is something that resonates deep down and I can’t put a finger on why. It is all about journeying with patients who are going through a vulnerable time in life. This brings meaning to the work I do. It is a privilege, and a humbling job at the same time.

Palliative care transforms the patient and the practitioner as well. If you have not been changed, then you have not been in palliative care at all. Initially, I told myself “Since there is a need, why not join and do something meaningful?” I fell in love with it almost immediately.

Of all the different medical sectors, what is so enticing about palliative care?

This kind of work touches medical professionals in a deeper level and stays with them for a long time. People who left it, comes back after a while. Some who have tasted the goodness of being a palliative care practitioner, would come back no matter how the world outside seems more appealing.

Despite the sadness and tragedies, we witness resilience and courage accompanied with joy and triumph in many of our patients. Palliative care medical professionals have now broaden their care to patients who are looking for curative treatment earlier in their diagnosis – co-managing the pain through treatment.

What’s the special relationship you have with HCA Hospice Care?

I had a drastic increase of lung cancer patients and I did not know what to do so I decided to knock on the door of HCA Hospice Care for help. We have a close and mutual friendship. When I call and refer a patient, HCA is more than willing to accommodate and visit as soon as they can.

HCA Hospice Care is the biggest home hospice care with reliable and competent doctors and nurses in Singapore. Medical professionals in HCA Hospice Care are in the job for the right reason. I witnessed many close relationships formed between the staff of HCA and their patients as well as families. A home care nurse makes a great deal of difference in the lives of patients and their families – sharing their joy and woes. One of my patient shared how much it meant to him and his family to just have someone holding them together on this journey.

When patients get weak and frail, unable to even stand and walk to the hospitals – I am thankful and pleased to know that they have HCA’s nurses and doctors alongside them.

How do you deal with “No thanks to HCA Hospice Care”?

I reassure them that a team of medical professionals will attend to them for free (Singaporeans love the word free!), at their convenience. Sometimes, patients think it is the end or I do not want to see them anymore. But they have to realise that in the palliative care industry, we are one big family with a shared partnership. It is about living and not dying. The home hospice team can see them frequently in the comfort of their homes. Whenever they need me, I will definitely still be there.

Patients who underwent palliative care tends to have a longer lifespan, lesser anxiety and depression – especially patients suffering from advanced lung cancer.

Words of encouragement for palliative care medical professionals.

Focus and keep your eyes on the patients and families – that’s the reason you are in the field and it still is the reason. In the hustle and bustle of things, we may forget our purpose. Don’t lose heart and the personal touch that the palliative movement is known for.

Words of encouragement for patients undergoing palliative care.

I do not know what to say, I am not in a position to say anything to them. But, be open to accept services provided by organisations like HCA Hospice Care.  It is not about dying, it is about life before death – making it bearable and meaningful.

As a mother of three, how do you juggle between work and family life?

I have to learn to multitask. It is a challenge, but we can only do our best and worry less about what the future holds. As my children grow older, I share with them what I do and they understand. My husband is very supportive. I may be far from perfect, we make mistakes, but we learn and move on, that’s life!

Find pleasure and joy in life. For me, family is a good coping mechanism. Focus on my patients when I am at work, and family when I am in the warmth of their company.

HCA Hospice Home Care is free of charge for all patients referred by their doctors. To find out more about our admission and charges, visit us at https://www.hca.org.sg/hospice/services/administration.