Over 90? I'll let you cut queue

Madam Alice Wong Lai Kih, who works at the National University Hospital, says the most gratifying part of her job is seeing her patients get better after each visit.

For Madam Alice Wong Lai Kih, it is a situation she knows all too well.

As a senior patient service associate, she is in charge of the lines of patients at the University Medicine Clinic at the National University Hospital (NUH).

Some days, it can be more than an hour's wait before one gets to see the doctor. And patients are hardly, well, patient.

In her seven years at NUH, she has been screamed at, complained about and been accused of favouritism.

Once, she was berated for half an hour by an elderly patient, who even insulted her profession and her family members.

Madam Wong, 52, says: "I have to endure it and just listen, because they are sick and not in the best of moods.

"It is quite hurtful when you are genuinely trying to help them."

Patient service associates like Madam Wong are often regarded as the unsung heroes of hospitals, working behind the scenes so a hospital can function as it should.

Besides managing the queues, their job includes assisting doctors in the rooms, preparing patients' case files, scheduling appointments and administering blood tests.

Some days are particularly challenging and it is the patient queues where the "front lines" are.

To avoid ugly confrontations, patients are given queue numbers. And there are notices that the numbers will not be called out in sequence.

But that does not deter some intrepid patients who try their luck at jumping the queue. They would plead their case with her, sometimes by feigning emergencies.

Madam Wong confesses she sometimes allows those aged 90 and above to move to the front of the line.


But most times, she can sniff out the genuine cases.

She admits she was "defeated" a few years ago when a woman with kidney failure wanted to jump the queue as she had to "go overseas" that day.

After much insistence, Madam Wong conceded and moved the patient up.

"She came out from the doctor's room soon after. I was shocked when she casually said she was actually heading to Sentosa," she recalls with a hearty laugh.

Another one of Madam Wong's tasks is to contact patients who fail to turn up for their appointments.

Seems easy enough?

Not really, she adds.

"There are older patients who have given up. They don't know what is the point of turning up as they have accepted death.

"I can only remind them, but I can't force them to come. It is quite sad."

As they do not hold a nursing degree, patient service associates like Madam Wong are not nurses, though most patients cannot tell the difference.

She left her comfy office job as a secretary in an electronics firm as she was curious about healthcare, even though she had no experience.

She got more than she bargained for.

Each doctor sees an average of 14 patients a day. Madam Wong attends to five doctors and all their patients.

It is hardly a thankless job, however, as the doctors and most patients show their appreciation in various ways.

Doctors pen "thank you" notes and treat them kindly, while patients often buy food and cakes for Madam Wong and the four other patient service associates in the clinic.

For her though, the biggest payoff is not the accolade or recognition, but seeing her patients get better after each visit.

"There are those who don't make it too, but seeing a patient get better again makes it all worthwhile."


This article was first published on May 03, 2015.
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