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“I like to tell people I work as an ‘MSW’ – and the immediate reply is usually a ‘Huh? Mao Shan Wang durian?’”  

May Heap, Senior Medical Social Worker at Sengkang Community Hospital (SKCH) is quick to correct them afterwards with a laugh – MSW actually stands for Medical Social Worker, which May has been working as for the past 11 years.

May started her career in social work as a Social Work Assistant in Changi General Hospital (CGH) – within a year, she was certain that medical social work was her calling. Seeing patients struggle to cope with their conditions, May found it fulfilling to walk with them through their recovery journey, working to provide a helping hand (or listening ear) when they needed it most.

She took up additional classes to further her studies in social work, and completed her internship with CGH, where she was subsequently assigned to the General Medicine team as a full-time MSW. Since then, she has embraced her role, with 10 years clocked at CGH and going over a year strong at SingHealth Community Hospitals (SCH) where she is now.

Despite the differences between an acute and community hospital, May’s duties towards her patients have not differed much. As an MSW, she is with a patient from Day One of their admission.

When a patient is first admitted, May steps in, helping them to understand their condition by counselling them about their illness or disease. MSWs also work closely with the patient’s family to address issues such as care arrangement, financial matters, and psychosocial support throughout a patient’s recovery journey in SCH.

At SCH, May’s work takes her through a close working relationship with SCH’s multi-disciplinary teams, working with doctors, nurses, therapists and other allied health professionals to facilitate a patient’s care and eventual discharge.

Her relationship with a patient and their family, however, does not end at discharge, as she also helps them transit from the hospital back into the community post-discharge.

Journeying with patients and their families through their tough times is clearly not a smooth sailing road, as one can imagine. May acknowledges the need to remain emotionally strong herself, in order to remain a pillar of support for her patients and their families when they need her most.

“It is difficult to not let their grief affect you,” May admits, when speaking of providing psychosocial support and counselling for grieving individuals.

The ups and downs are all part of the job, as May firmly believes, sticking by her career choice.

“I find it meaningful and fulfilling to work with patients, and help them to understand and cope with their conditions.”

Her role as a MSW is invaluable in the recovery journey of all patients, be it in an acute or community hospital setting.