By Assoc Prof Arpana Vidyarthi, Associate Professor at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School and Internal Medicine Consultant at SGH

  • Effective teamwork saves lives
  • Leadership and resilience are requisites for practitioners

Health profession schools, including medical schools, traditionally focus on teaching basic science and clinical skills. As care delivery becomes more complex, diagnosing disease and its management is not enough to promote health or save lives.

Teamwork, communication, self-awareness and understanding systems are key competencies required to deliver effective care across all disciplines.

In addition self-leadership and resilience are requisites to grow, learn, and continue on in the demanding careers of healthcare professionals.

What were viewed as “soft skills” in the traditional mindset are now essential “hard skills” to practice in today’s healthcare system.

A doctor may have learned the skills to diagnose a heart that is failing to beat properly (what we call a “code”) and even knows the correct medicine to administer, but unless she is able to adequately lead the team by knowing the system, recognising the skills of the team, and communicate effectively while managing her own stress, that knowledge may not translate into saving the patient’s life. 

In a study published by the Journal of American Association (JAMA) in 2010, patients cared for by surgical teams that underwent teamwork training were significantly more likely to survive when compared to those cared for by surgical teams that did not receive the training.

Effective teamwork saves lives. 

How can we then as medical educators ensure that our students are learning these necessary skills? At Duke-NUS, the students undergo training in the key leadership skills at the outset of starting medical school.

Training provided to the students must also be supplemented with real world situations whereby students can apply these skills, reflect upon them, and continue to build. 

Duke-NUS’ TeamLEAD curriculum, where students learn basic science in an innovative team-based approach, is one opportunity to apply these skills.

These students also participate in student government, create initiatives through the college masters program, and learn through service in the DOVE Program (Duke-NUS Overseas Volunteer Expedition).  

This is just the beginning. We need to continue to foster and grow leadership capacity in the next generation.

In the post-graduate years, Singapore residencies are now considering more comprehensive teamwork training. 

In addition, prestigious nationwide selection-based programs like the Singapore Chief Residency Program,  considers leadership capacity as a central admission criteria.

As we move forward into the next phase of healthcare delivery in Singapore, we will need effective leaders—not only to work in policy and administrative leadership positions, but also to effectively care for all us.