National University of Singapore (Singapore)

Impressions of Singapore

Veeny Kan - medical student from Sydney Medical School, undertook an Elective with the National University of Singapore in 2012–13


" 'Smells like Chicken Rice' – word for word, this is the description a patient gave to the smell of diathermy wafting into the induction room as he lay waiting for his pending operation.

You come to realise very early on that Singaporeans love their food, and Chicken Rice just happens to be their national dish. On my first day with the Anaesthetics department of Changi General Hospital, I was informed that if by the end of my posting I hadn’t put on a few kilos, my elective term would have been a failure. – 8 weeks later, I can say the local predictions of weight gain were fairly accurate.

Good food aside, what else have I learned from doing my elective in Singapore? From an anaesthetics point of view, there is no better place for increasing your confidence in cannulation and developing left upper arm muscles from bag masking and laryngoscopy. Along the way I also had the opportunity to learn how to perform spinals, brush up on some physiology and pharmacology, as well as learning a little about the art of pain medicine.

Medicine in Singapore isn’t particularly unlike medicine in Australia, their population is ageing, chronic diseases are rife and professionals converse in English. But as it is with any country, cultural factors heavily influence the delivery and quality of healthcare.


Singapore is a mix of cultures including people of Chinese, Malay, Indian and British descent. This ex-British colony speaks English, Chinese, Malay, Hokkien and Tamil. Up until my arrival, I had not realised how useful a prior knowledge of Chinese Mandarin would, especially for communicating with older generation patients. I was also able to learn two Malay words during my posting – ‘makan’ (eat) and ‘sakit’ (pain).

Singapore is a small yet densely populated country of greater than 5 million individuals. I came to realise very early on that this meant that sadly, there isn’t much time available for doctors to spend with their patients. Chronic disease control and medication compliance is very poor and patients present very late in the course of their disease. Alongside chronic conditions, you will see the communicable diseases of the South East Asian region such as active tuberculosis, dengue fever, hepatitis B and more superbugs than I ever knew existed.

All in all, it was a great learning experience both culturally and practically in medicine through Anaesthetics.