Chief Executive Officer, National University Hospital (NUH)
Dean, Healthcare Leadership College, MOH Holdings Pte Ltd
Senior Consultant, Department of Hand & Reconstructive Microsurgery, National University Hospital
Professor, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine
Prof Aymeric Lim, Dean of the Healthcare Leadership College at MOHH gives his views on Singapore’s healthcare system; leadership in the public healthcare sector and shares why it is important to have leaders who are guided by the right values.
What do you see as the current healthcare challenges facing our system today?
We have a few challenges facing our healthcare system. The first is the impact of the rapidly ageing population on healthcare capacity: bed occupancy rates and appointment wait times have come under high pressure in recent years, and the demand on healthcare infrastructure can only be expected to rise as our society grows older. We also face dire shortages of healthcare manpower in certain fields, particularly nurses. Second, with the changing patient profile, we are faced with a growing chronic disease burden. More and more middle-aged and elderly Singaporeans are living with long-term chronic diseases, which impact not just their quality of life, but also affect their families and increase the burden on society. Third, we need to continue to ensure sustainability in our healthcare costs, by changing how we deliver care, focusing on value and outcomes. And lastly, we need a mindset shift, not just among healthcare professionals but the public, to think beyond healthcare, towards the larger goal of good health for all.
Why is leadership important in healthcare today?
Leadership in our public healthcare sector is critical because the game has changed over the past 20 years. The healthcare sector today is faster and more complex. In the past, patients may have to undergo surgeries requiring hospital stays for up to five days. Now, these procedures can be completed as day surgeries. Patients are older with more severe illnesses and multiple co-morbidities. Technology has advanced, along with care. Patients expect more. There are more medico-legal issues. The lone hero, individualistic model, for practising physicians, no longer works.
Great leadership thus becomes paramount – to be able to find different and innovative ways to address the increasing challenges of ageing, growing chronic disease burden and constraints on manpower and funding resources; to guide members of the public healthcare family towards a strong vision and purpose and motivate their teams to make the changes necessary to achieve that vision and purpose; and to nurture and inspire others to carry on the leadership torch for future generations.
What do you feel are the most critical attributes for healthcare leaders in Singapore?
In our uncertain environment, doctors who have the capacity to lead teams of increasing size are needed at all levels. They must have the right values and ethos to successfully steward the health system towards integrated care and navigate these challenges.
By and large, we try to select for leaders with the right values. The true test comes when leaders need to display these values. They can, but only if they have sufficient moral courage to overcome any possible risk to themselves or their careers.
During World War 2, General William Slim was defeated in Burma by the Japanese army. He regrouped in India and went back into Burma to inflict the greatest land defeat of the Japanese army. Lord Louis Mountbatten regarded him as the finest General World War 2 had produced. General Slim thought moral courage primordial in his commanders and defined it as such: “Do what you think is right without thinking too much about the effects on your person”.
This is particularly apt for healthcare. Leaders should have the moral courage to do the simple and right thing, and not worry too much about the effects on their person. The College is committed to developing healthcare leaders who have not just the right skills but the right values.