NS-bound medical grads to do A&E stints

SINGAPORE - Male medical graduates will now have to do compulsory hospital stints at emergency or anaesthesia departments before returning to complete their national service.

The move follows concerns over junior military doctors' readiness to handle emergencies, such as the one last year in which a soldier died of an allergic reaction after smoke grenade training.

The new postings, which started in May and apply only to Singaporeans, aim to give soon-to-be medical officers the confidence to diagnose and resuscitate critically injured patients, including those who suffer cardiac arrests or breathing difficulties.

Previously, medical officers - who are full-time national servicemen - did not have to serve in accident and emergency or anaesthesia departments during their two-year hospital stints.

The Defence Ministry told The Straits Times it had worked with the Ministry of Health to come up with the three-month postings.

The scheme provides medical officers with "additional hands-on and practical experience", said Colonel (Dr) Kang Wee Lee, Chief of Medical Corps in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

This will include handling emergency medical situations and life-saving resuscitation. The SAF is also conducting emergency medicine courses for its doctors.

Singapore produces 300 medical graduates a year, with about 120 men returning to be doctors in the SAF.

The compulsory stints are part of a series of moves in recent years to raise the standards of medical care in the military.

They also aim to increase the survival chances of a soldier suffering from injuries or cardiac arrest.

In 2010, the SAF revamped the training for entry-level paramedics to help them handle these kinds of cases better.

Staff in the military's 32 medical centres islandwide are also assessed based on their emergency response drills.

In March, Senior Minister of State (Defence) Chan Chun Sing announced that civilian doctors will be deployed as mentors in some SAF medical centres later this year.

Emergency doctors have said each minute's delay reduces a cardiac arrest patient's chances of survival by 7 to 10 per cent.

National Resuscitation Council chairman V. Anantharaman said compulsory stints in emergency departments will expose the young doctors to a variety of useful situations.

For instance, Tan Tock Seng Hospital's emergency department handles up to 500 cases a day.

At the same time, the junior medics will be closely supervised by senior emergency physicians.

Professor Anantharaman added: "The medical officers will benefit because they will have greater confidence in dealing systematically with a variety of emergency situations."

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