<<The teams in Mr Joe Tham’s department focus on different areas, such as wards, outpatient clinics, operating theatres, scan rooms and intensive care units. Team members can choose to be rotated to a different focus area to enhance their skills and understanding of the hospital’s needs.>>

Mr Joe Tham derives satisfaction from solving problems presented by design challenges.

Mr Joe Tham often plays musical chairs at work. In planning the renovation of a ward, clinic or other facility, the Project Manager at Singapore General Hospital’s (SGH) Facilities Development Department has to consider how and where to move patients temporarily.

“We don’t have a lot of space at SGH, so we need to do some musical chairs,” said Mr Tham.

Patients can be admitted to another ward when, for instance, the renal ward is being renovated, but it is not possible to close the renal ward’s dialysis centre without a backup as patients need to undergo dialysis every day.

“We first decant the ICA (intensive care area, a part of the renal ward) and the renal ward to build a dialysis centre in its place. Once the new centre is completed, the old one will be decommissioned, and the space is then used to build the new ICA and renal ward,” said Mr Tham.

Moving patients to different wards is just part of the work that goes into designing, building and renovating healthcare spaces in SGH. It suits Mr Tham to a T, however, as he describes himself as being a hands-on person who has had a passion for architecture and design since young. He studied architecture, then specialised in interior design. Before joining SGH 14 years ago, he was a project manager in commercial projects and office buildings.

Mr Tham is one of 23 architects, quantity surveyors, project managers, civil and mechanical engineers, interior designers, and administrative staff in his department. Each team in the department is responsible for different areas in the hospital — wards, outpatient clinics, operating theatres, scan rooms and intensive care units. Team members, however, can choose to be rotated to different areas to enhance their skills and knowledge.

When planning projects, the team holds regular meetings with users to understand their requirements. Specialists from other disciplines, such as housekeeping, nursing, facilities maintenance engineering, environmental services and infection control, are also represented at these meetings to help highlight needs and limitations, and brainstorm solutions.

Depending on the level of complexity, projects can take years to materialise. For example, the renal ward that Mr Tham’s team is working on took three years of planning and approvals alone. Other considerations include building and safety regulations, age- and handicap-friendly design elements, as well as corporate designs.

“What I like most about my job is solving problems. When we are faced with a challenge and we manage to get new ideas and come up with solutions, it really brings me satisfaction,” said Mr Tham, adding that to him, good design incorporates answers to difficult problems.

Mr Tham’s association with SGH goes back to his childhood. His family lived in the Outram area, and his grandmother ran a wanton noodle stall nearby that was frequented by SGH nurses and doctors.

The father of a 16-year-old daughter enjoys hiking, running and cycling. He finds hiking a great way to spend quality time with his wife, who works in another hospital, and they go to places like MacRitchie Reservoir Park to keep fit and healthy.

Mr Tham is better known among colleagues as a cyclist who took part in the epic 13.5-hour SGH Bicentennial 200km Ride in March 2021 to raise money for the SGH Needy Patients Fund. Riding 200km in a day was extremely tough, as the fickle weather alternated between drizzles, sunny skies and heavy downpours throughout that day. Nonetheless, he found the experience very meaningful, and is participating in a 201km ride later this year for the same cause.


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