Jasa Utama: Stepping Up to Serve

Tan Yia Swam

March was a really busy month: not just with the usual clinical work, family duties and SMA work, but also with participation in the Budget debates in my role as a Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP).

Time really flew by and, remarkably, I am finishing up my third year of serving as President of SMA, and soon approaching the end of my two-and-a-half-year appointment as an NMP. Many friends, acquaintances and even patients have been very curious as to what an NMP does, and how I do it all.

The NMP's role

To start, what does an NMP do? Here, I provide the link to the official Government explanation of the role of an NMP (http://bit.ly/3KxL22i), a recent discussion on whether the role of an NMP is still relevant (http://bit.ly/3IP95bq), and a published collection of essays by previous NMPs (http://bit.ly/3Kwiwhi), to help with your understanding of the role. I also share my own thoughts on what I have contributed in nation-building.

There have been other medical doctors who served as NMPs in past years:

  • 1990-1991: Dr Maurice Choo (cardiologist)
  • 1992-1994: Dr Kanwaljit Soin (orthopaedic surgeon), Dr Toh Keng Kiat (haematologist)
  • 1999-2005: Dr Jennifer Lee Gek Choo (CEO of KK Women's and Children's Hospital)
  • 2005-2006: Dr Geh Min (ophthalmologist), Dr Loo Choon Yong (cardiologist), Dr Tan Sze Wee (clinician-scientist)
  • 2014-2015: Dr Benedict Tan Chi'-Loong (sports medicine)

The NMP is expected to present independent, non-partisan views in Parliament. Nominations are invited from seven functional groups. These functional groups are (1) business and industry, (2) labour, (3) professions, (4) social service organisations, (5) civic and people sector, (6) tertiary education institutions, and (7) media, arts and sports organisations.

My nomination came from the SMA, under the professions functional group. There were eight names submitted in total in that category. There was then a vote by the various representatives of the 13 healthcare professional bodies, and two final nominees went for an interview with the Parliament's Selection Committee. Out of 61 candidates from the whole country, only nine were selected.

My journey

On 14 January 2021, my phone exploded with messages. I was in a full-day clinic and I wondered at the congratulatory messages I was receiving, until I saw the ones that attached screenshots announcing my selection. Embarrassingly, I had not checked my email until the end of the day, which was where the official notice had been sent ahead of the news to the public!

My goal during my term serving as an NMP has been to speak up for equality, mental wellness and healthcare. Most of my speeches have been on healthcare and about being an advocate for doctors and for patients, which is complementary to my work in SMA. I spoke on the need for equal access to healthcare and the importance of education. I furthered the discussion on private healthcare financing, in particular on Integrated Shield Plans and how these have evolved in recent years. I raised concerns about third-party administrators, and the support for healthcare workers throughout the COVID-19 battle. Looking back at the previous doctors in Parliament who have spoken on healthcare issues, I believe that there have been small but significant improvements.

The call to serve

The healthcare profession is an evolving landscape, and even with the establishment of the Multilateral Healthcare Insurance Committee, the Clinical Claims Resolution Process and the launch of Healthier SG, I am sure that more challenges will arise. There will be a need for ongoing representation for patients and for doctors in SMA, in the other medical professional bodies and even in Parliament.

If any of you are interested in being an NMP, these are the requisite criteria. You must be:

  • A Singapore citizen aged 21 years or older;
  • A resident in Singapore for at least ten years;
  • Registered in the register of electors;
  • Able to speak, read and write in at least one of the four official languages (English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil); and
  • Not disqualified from being an MP under Article 45 of the Constitution.

It has indeed been a journey of personal growth, and I hope I have contributed in some small part to the (positive) changes in healthcare, education and a small nudge towards equality. For more of what we have done, do search Hansard (http://bit.ly/3EwNNNf) for transcripts of my speeches, and look up Channel News Asia's website for videos of my speeches. A few doctors have asked me to do a sharing session on my journey – maybe something to consider after this term is over. If you would be interested in such a sharing session, let us know at news@sma.org.sg!

I hope you are inspired, and I hope to see more healthcare professionals take on this NMP challenge in the next round of nominations!

Photos by Ministry of Communications and Information

Oath-taking in Parliament Chamber


Group photo of the nine newly-appointed NMPs with Madam President Halimah Yacob and Speaker Mr Tan Chuan-Jin

Tan Yia Swam is a mother to three kids, wife to a surgeon; a daughter and a daughter in-law. She trained as a general surgeon, and entered private practice in mid-2019, focusing on breast surgery. She treasures her friends and wishes to have more time for her diverse interests: cooking, eating, music, drawing, writing, photography and comedy.