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Mr. Lai Yi Feng and Ms. Tracy Chean, Co-Chairpersons, 20th Asian Conference on Clinical Pharmacy Organising Committee, Pharmaceutical Society of Singapore
Ms. Yong Pei Chean, President, Pharmaceutical Society of Singapore
Prof Kwon Kwang-il, President, Asian Conference on Clinical Pharmacy

Assoc Prof Camilla Wong, Chief Pharmacist, Ministry of Health, Singapore
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen

         A very good evening to all of you. I am delighted to join you at the 20th Asian Conference on Clinical Pharmacy. This is a milestone event, and after two decades, it is apt that we are discussing how the professional landscape has changed, and what is the trajectory of the pharmacist profession beyond 2020, and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. 

2.     It is a topic of some interest to me, because for the past decade and a half, workforce and professional development has been a recurring theme of my work.  

3.     In 2005, I was the CEO of the newly established Workforce Development Agency, where we tried to professionalise many vocations, hitherto uncertified and had no skills currency of their own. We developed a national skills qualifications standard, called the WSQ.  The objective is to give formal qualifications across a range of occupations – chefs, hospitality staff, technicians, pre-school teachers etc.  

4.     Many mid-career workers, took up the WSQ courses, attained the certifications, and entered the industry.  A good proportion of the workers were from industries where formal training exists, but they were excluded as they could not meet the academic entry criteria.  So we worked with the regulatory and professional bodies, to develop competency tests as an alternate avenue to help them qualify for formal training.  Afterall, people are always improving, and we should not always judge them based on academic results attained at a young age.  

5.     The effort gave new meaning to lifelong learning – no longer just about picking up hobbies like cooking and flower arrangement, but charting new careers as an adult learner. And the avenues have become available. 

6.     As I moved to the labour unions in 2008, my work was closer to the ground, mobilising workers to take up these development opportunities. We paid special attention to the lower wage workers, such as cleaners, security officers and landscape technicians.  We developed a ladder of progression for them, where wage levels are pegged to skills attainment and job responsibilities. It is called the Progressive Wage Model. 

7.     From 2015 I re-joined the Government as the Minister for Education. By then our effort for professionalisation of vocations, lifelong learning, and skills progression has evolved into a national movement, called SkillsFuture. The Ministry of Education assumed the role of a central coordinator, leveraging the Institutes of Higher Learning under its charge to drive the movement.

8.     At MOE, my deepest impression was how the role of the teacher has evolved. My reference point was my mother, who was a Chinese and Mathematics teacher. She was a disciplinarian, and I could see her students respected her a lot. Parents never questioned her teaching methods, or punishment she needed to mete out to students from time to time. She was a high school graduate, which was the qualification required to be a teacher then.  

9.     Today the job of the teacher has changed drastically. It is common to have two, even three teachers in a classroom, presenting the materials and coaching the students at the same time. Beyond subject teaching, teachers are giving guidance to students on their education and career options, shaping their character and values, helping them navigate the Internet as part of our digital literacy programme. The role of the teacher has become a lot more holistic, the relationship not one of teacher to class, but between individuals.  

10.     Today, teachers are mostly armed with a Bachelor’s degree plus a post graduate diploma. They undergo continuous training at the Academy of Teachers to deepen their professional skills. Theoretically it is possible to join the professional mid-career, and indeed a handful does. But it is not easy because of the very high bar for entry and the long gestation of a qualified teacher.  

11.     However, the situation is totally different in pre-school. Because it is an expanding sector with rising demand, it became necessary to recruit mid-career entrants.  So many Singaporeans who discovered their passion for teaching later on in life, could take up formal courses in polytechnics and Universities as an adult learner, get themselves certified, and become pre-school teachers.  

12.     I greatly admire this group of workers. It is not easy to learn a new set of skills in adulthood. It requires a lot of determination and passion, and self-discovery. Being more mature, they are also more certain of what they want to do for the rest of their working lives. The stock of adult workforce is a treasure trove of talent to uncover, for any profession. 

13.     I recounted these experiences because I think they illustrated the future of all professions and the characteristics they need to possess.  

14.     First, the job role must evolve. Technology will dominate every sector and profession. Let machines and computers do what they do best, and let humans develop strengths in doing what only humans can do. Second, and in line with the first, our work will involve mastering the use of technology, to complement our human skills to improve outcomes and raise productivity.  

15.     Third, lifelong learning will be a reality, as we need to continuously hone our crafts. Fourth, there must be an avenue for mid-career entrants to join the profession, and entry conditions must be attainable and not based on achievements at a young age. Finally, all these must bring a greater sense of pride and professionalism in the occupation.  

16.     I believe these are also some of the basic principles undergirding SkillsFuture.  It must also guide the future of the pharmacy profession. We caught a glimpse of what it can be during the COVID-19 pandemic. The response of the professional was swift and impactful. 

17.     When the pandemic struck, the pharmacy profession immediately expanded its public health responsibilities. At the frontline, pharmacies at public healthcare institutions swiftly scaled up medication delivery services to ensure that patients had sufficient medications to last until their next medical appointments. They also turned to teleconsults to optimise and educate and counsel patients on their medications.  

18.     At the National Centre for Infectious Diseases, pharmacists assisted with the setting up of the first screening centre for COVID-19.  At our Community Care Facilities and Foreign Worker Dormitories, they collaborated with doctors to develop standardised sets of pre-packed medication and provided multilingual medication labels to facilitate efficient medication counselling. 

19.     On the scientific front, being the drug expert and members of multi-disciplinary healthcare teams, pharmacists are actively involved in reviewing the latest clinical evidence for COVID-19 treatment. Given the rapidly changing evidence base and many novel treatments and vaccines, it was imperative that these medications were quickly made available in Singapore, and monitored closely for their safety and efficacy. Pharmacists also play an important role in the regulatory arena. They have been working hard in HSA to evaluate and approve vaccines under the PSAR framework, and also looking at other therapeutics.

20.     As the nation’s response to the pandemic evolves, our community pharmacists adapted. At various junctures you promoted the appropriate use of face masks, sanitisers and disinfectants, advice the public on personal hygiene and minor ailment management.  Now, you are encouraging people to take vaccinations, and educating them on the proper use of Antigen Rapid Tests.

21.     Consumer access to information is important, to help them take greater control of their health and well-being. Through the Pharmaceutical Society of Singapore National Medication Information Workgroup, the profession develop the “1-medication-1-drug” leaflets to help patients and their loved ones  better manage their medication and health.  The workgroup has published over 280 leaflets on HealthHub to date, and this is one of the commonly accessed webpages. Others took to social media platforms. 

22.     Through the pandemic, education and learning did not stop. Contingency modules for training had to be quickly developed and adopted by NUS to ensure that the training of our pharmacy students would not be disrupted.  

23.     In May 2020, the Development Framework for Pharmacists was published to guide pharmacists in their upgrading efforts. As the pandemic rages on, various training providers such as the Pharmaceutical Society of Singapore and Tan Tock Seng Hospital also brought a variety of lectures, and portfolio building and assessment workshops online. The Singapore Pharmacy Council also revised the Continuing Professional Education Requirements to allow pharmacists to accumulate CPE points entirely online. 

24.     To meet with the surge in workload, former pharmacy colleagues came forward and returned to the frontline as part of the Singapore Healthcare Corps, demonstrating immense sense of camaraderie, pride and professionalism. 

25.     It should be noted that during this period, many workers without experience in healthcare also stepped forward, assuming roles such as swabbers, and contract tracers. They cannot do the work of nurses or pharmacists, but with proper training and guidance, they discharge their frontline responsibilities admirably, and is an indispensable part of our COVID-19 fighting force. 

26.     Through necessity rather than choice, the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated how a professional community can adapt and transform itself. The same spirit needs to continue in peacetime, when the pandemic subsides, which it will eventually. 

27.     Our healthcare model needs to undergo a transformation. The different components, from acute care hospitals, community hospitals, nursing homes, polyclinics, general practitioners, nurses, pharmacists, allied health professionals, health promoters etc, have to come together, reconceptualise their division of labour and complement of strengths, to deliver healthcare services in a more holistic and efficient way with better outcomes. 

28.     In this process the role of our pharmacists will change.  A clear development is for pharmacists to move closer to the community, such as going to senior care centres to help our elderly manage their medication. Another is the strengthening of inter-disciplinary collaboration at various healthcare settings, to provide better person-centred care. 

29.     The National Collaborative Prescribing Programme is one effort to support this change, and has graduated 242 nurses and pharmacists so far. To support the development of community practice, the National University of Singapore has launched two graduate certificates. The first in Advanced Pharmacy Practice was launched in August 2020 and the second in Community-based Geriatric Pharmaceutical Care was launched in January 2021.  NUS is making a presentation at this Conference later. The Pharmaceutical Society of Singapore has also completed the revision of the Certified Pharmacy Technician Course, which will be launched at the end of the year. It will help upgrade mid-career entrants pharmacy assistants, to join the pharmacy technician workforce. 

30.     Thank you for inviting me to this Conference, and keeping alive the recurrent theme of lifelong learning and workforce development in all my job assignments so far. I am delighted to hear that there are about 900 participants from more than 10 different countries, and I wish everyone here a successful and fruitful conference. Thank you.

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