Perspectives of seniors
Students from different faculties of NUS produced a book to highlight seniors’ experiences with Singapore’s healthcare system.
A book titled ‘Looking Through the Silver Mirror’ showcasing 20 stories of seniors written by 20 students from various faculties at the National University of Singapore (NUS) will be unveiled at the Canopy @ J-Link on June 2. The seniors come from voluntary welfare organisations – Metta Welfare Association and Presbyterian Community Services.
The idea of a book came about in 2016 by Gabriel Wong, project director and third-year student at NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine (NUS Medicine). Students from NUS’ faculties of Medicine, Science, and Arts and Social Sciences were recruited to collaborate and interview the seniors during their school holidays from May to August 2017. They also engaged a team of reviewers, including Yale-NUS College’s humanities and liberal arts students, to edit the stories. Subsequently, the students invited the seniors to Gardens by the Bay as a token of appreciation for their time.
‘Looking Through the Silver Mirror’ is structured into different stories, each featuring a senior’s life story. The first section of the story tells a unique aspect of a senior’s past as well as their outlook on life, followed subsequently by a discussion of their challenges navigating Singapore’s healthcare system, and ending with a reflection piece by the respective student-writer on his or her experience with the senior. The book also features a ‘Communication Primer’, which provides youth readers with useful tips on interacting with seniors.
The book aims to foster intergenerational bonding between the seniors and Singaporean youths through these heartfelt, personal stories. It also advocates careers in healthcare for the eldercare sector, which is currently facing a shortage of skilled staff.
Shared Gabriel: “The team initiated this project because of Singapore’s ageing population, and the dearth of youths considering careers in eldercare, especially in the allied health professions. We also believe that the project would encourage inter-professional collaboration between future healthcare workers, which is critical for caring for an ageing population with multi-faceted needs.” He also highlighted a lack of reflective writing by healthcare students and through understanding seniors, it will further add value in their work and personally in their homes.
Denise Phua, Mayor of Central Community Development Council (CDC), who wrote the foreword for the book, added: “Many of the seniors featured in this book face life challenges – some have movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease, others have chronic conditions such as diabetes, while a few have financial and social difficulties. Many of these anecdotes are deeply moving and enlightening. They highlight the resilience of the human spirit of our seniors, who faced tough times in Singapore’s nation-building years and are today still demonstrating that same tenacity in overcoming their health and social challenges. These are stories of fighters from which we can learn much from.” She will also be the guest-of-honour at the book launch.
During the book launch, the team will bring together performances by both youth groups, such as a guitar band from the School of the Arts (SOTA), and seniors, such as Bishan Ukers, to celebrate the spirit of intergenerational understanding and empowerment of seniors. There will be booths by senior advocacy organisations such as Ageless Online, and Senior Savvy and Project Happy Club from Youth Corps.
In addition to the publication of the book, with a PDF copy to be posted on the NUS website in June, the team is also working with a senior, who is also a videographer, to capture videos of seniors at their partner charities, such as Presbyterian Community Services. The video, which features interesting stories of seniors, will be uploaded on the team’s social media pages to engage youths.
Outreach to students
In March to May 2018, the team also held talks at Victoria Junior College, SOTA and Anglo-Chinese Junior College, and reached out to more than 100 students, inviting students from the various NUS faculties, as well as physiotherapy and occupational therapy students from the Singapore Institute of Technology, to share the challenges of various healthcare professions from a student’s perspective.
“Collaboration in healthcare has been shown to improve patient outcomes. Not surprisingly, the World Health Organization has published a framework which highlights inter-professional education as a necessary step in preparing a ‘collaborative practice-ready’ health workforce that is better prepared to respond to local health needs. Ethics is a key component of inter-professional education, and it is deeply concerned with what respect for patients, their caregivers and fellow colleagues could mean in collaborative practice,” said Asst Prof Calvin Ho from the Centre for Biomedical Ethics at NUS Medicine, who is also an academic advisor for the book project.
He added: “Through ‘Looking through the Silver Mirror’, our students have shared with us in a very personal way how a sense of respect has been formed through interacting with our seniors, and as part of their journey to becoming future healthcare providers. Through this platform, they are also reaching out to their peers to embark on this important reflective journey.” Asst Prof Ho also said that sometimes a patient may see many different specialists in different faculties, and it is important not to lose sight of the person’s values and beliefs.
One of the student-writers for the book, Carmen Chia, second-year student, Department of Psychology, NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, shared her experience – “I learnt to relate to the seniors as a friend and grew in my respect for them. I have also become more aware of people who fall through the cracks in our healthcare system and want to help them.”
The project was funded by the Lee Foundation, National Youth Council’s Young ChangeMakers Fund and NUS Medicine’s Interprofessional Education Committee, with literary advice from Eleanor Yap, director of Ageless Online, guidance from academic advisors from the respective NUS faculties, and doctors who reviewed the book. Asked if another book is in the pipeline, Gabriel shared that they are in the midst of deciding on the topic.