For HCA Resident Physician Dr Winnie Choo, it was curiosity that first led her to the palliative care sector. “I was a GP (General Practitioner) when I first saw HCA on the news,” Dr Choo shares. “It sparked my curiosity and I decided to give it a try.”
The switch from general practice to palliative care offered a vastly different experience – from the often-frenetic pace of consultations in the former to having a greater opportunity to build a closer doctor-patient relationship in the latter.
It is evident that the switch has proved fruitful for Dr Choo. A typical day for a HCA Palliative Care Doctor is filled with home visits, meetings and case recordings, all of which play a key role in patient care.
Despite having to juggle numerous work tasks, Dr Choo takes the time to gather detailed insights during home visits, listening patiently to the concerns of patients and their family members.
Dr Choo examines a bed-bound patient during a home visit.
During a home visit to a newly referred patient, Dr Choo gently explains to his wife about the symptoms that the patient is exhibiting and the medications he has been prescribed. Patients with end-stage cancer often experience inappetence, breathlessness and pain, all of which can be alarming and distressing to their family members and caregivers.
In response, the patient’s wife – an affable, friendly lady – opens up about her concerns and her family’s routines. While it may not sound like much, the first visit to a new patient often sets the foundation for a trusting doctor-patient relationship.
“What has been most rewarding for me is getting to know patients and their families, and seeing them become comfortable when their symptoms are managed well,” Dr Choo shares.
Communication is key in all sectors of healthcare, but it is especially so in end-of-life care, where sombre considerations and mixed emotions run high. “One of the biggest challenges is proper communication,” Dr Choo says. “Sometimes, people don’t understand what you mean.”
Beyond clinical care, taking the time to establish rapport with patients and their caregivers is key to quality palliative care.
Within the challenges lies the greatest lessons she has learnt in her two years with HCA to date. “I am still learning to be more patient, to really listen to their concerns and explain care options to patients and their families,” Dr Choo shares candidly.
Interacting with patients has also given Dr Choo fresh insights and wisdom. “I am really inspired by how some patients continue to persist through adversity, finding joy in simple things,” she says. “I still remember a patient who had been a hawker before he retired and he loved making porridge for his grandkids.”
While it is unarguable that HCA staff like Dr Choo continually make a difference in patients’ lives, the impact is hardly a one-way street – they often reap far more than they could ever imagine.