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An Occassional Word From Your Honorary Secretary-
The Tasks at Hand Part 1: Internal Issues

I have not written in the SMA News for a long time. Now that the indefatigable Dr Wong Tien Yin is its Editor, I would like to take this opportunity to wish him the best in his new job. I had taken over from him as SMA Honorary Secretary 3 years ago. I wonder who has the worse deal now. (There are NO good deals in SMA for Council members, as many of my fellow Council members have found out albeit too late).

Time flies and this is my fourth year as Honorary Secretary of the SMA. 3 years spent in this office is not a short time. One of the peculiarities I have noticed about this voluntary work is that I had originally thought that after 3 to 4 years, most of what I think should have been done or want to do as Honorary Secretary would have been completed after 3 years. But that has not been found to be the case and in my fourth year as Honorary Secretary, there appears more and more that awaits to be done. Let me now share with our members what I think are the tasks at hand. These issues are too many to cover in one issue of SMA News and so will be covered in two. The first part published in this month will cover internal issues facing SMA. Part 2 next month will delve into the external challenges that SMA will have to meet in the near future.

Internal Issues

a) Renewal

The Council has changed a lot in the past few years. I entered the Council in 1995. Not many of that group remains in the Council: Dr Tan Kok Soo, Dr Cheong Pak Yean, Dr Lee Pheng Soon, Dr Wong Tien Yin and I are the ones that remain. Of course, there are also Dr Vivian Balakrishnan and Prof Goh Lee Gan, both who had already been in the Council prior to 1995 and have now come back to serve a second Ďtourí. The rest of the Council (9) have less than 4 years of presence each in the Council. This is a good sign and is one that I am sure several other professional associations would be envious of: We are renewing ourselves. We have fresh blood and verve tempered with experience and institutional knowledge. A council that renews about 8 out of 16 members every 6 to 8 years with new faces is a good sign. An even better sign is the even age distribution of the Council members: 6 are below 35, 5 are above 45 and the remaining 5 between 36 and 44. We do not have an enforced age structure like some other societies, whereby representation of all age groups is guaranteed. Indeed there is no need for such measures as long as SMA is able to continue to renew itself with capable people from all age groups.

6 of the Council Members are either practising or teaching Family Medicine/General Practice. 2 are working in multinational pharmaceutical/nutritional companies, 3 are Registrars, 1 is a Medical Officer Trainee and the remaining 4 are Specialists. Looking at the figures in another way: 8 are in the private sector and the other 8 are not. From yet another perspective, 8 are either specialists or training to be one and the remaining 8 are not.

What the figures show is that from whatever angle, the present Council has members from almost all sectors of the profession. It can and does effectively look into issues facing the profession as a whole as well as problems that certain segments of the profession have to tackle. But I would be the first to admit that it is not a perfect set-up, and two segments of the profession are now under-represented. We have only 1 private sector specialist: Dr Ang Peng Tiam and only 1 lady: Dr Chow Wan Cheng, in the Council. In the next AGM, it would be good that more private sector specialists and lady doctors come forward to serve as Council members in SMA.

People make all the difference. Renewal remains the main task facing the SMA. SMA ticks when the people tick. A SMA council with tired faces is a tired SMA

.b) Financial well-being

A doctor once said, "The first thing in conducting a revolution is money. The second thing in conducting a revolution is also money. The third thing in conducting a revolution is still money" That doctor is known more for patriotism and courage than for economics: Dr Sun Yat Sen. The SMA is not here to conduct any revolution, but certainly money is the other major resource, other than people, that SMA needs in no small measure.

If my memory does not fail me, SMA had less than $900,000 in nett assets when I first joined the Council in 1995. In other words, SMA accumulated $900,000 in its first 35 years of existence. In the last 4 years, that figure has doubled to about $1.9 million. This was achieved over the last few years with the cooperation of all SMA members. Every small bit counts. We raised subscriptions. We increased the membership base: we now take in more than 90% of each fresh-out-of-NUS Medical School cohort as members as well as many, many foreign graduates. We consolidated our secretariat staffing. SMA representatives are made to fly economy and share rooms when travelling. Ex-co members even bring their own alcohol when entertaining on behalf of SMA. All this counts.

In the next few months, we will attempt to restructure our publishing activities to cut expenditure in this area $1.9 million may sound like a lot, but it isnít. Those who have read the previous AGM minutes will know that we are going to buy property. Whether SMA will ever move into this new property is not important, but property that SMA can call its own is a milestone and a very effective way of protecting our assets against inflation and the temptation to be profligate. The $1.9 million is probably enough for but the down-payment in this proposed purchase.

Next Month: The Tasks at Hand, Part 2: External Challenges Casemix, Primary Health Care & Geriatrics, Over-commercialisation of Medicine and Young Doctors


Honorary Secretary