Embarking on Non-Communicable Disease Research in Singapore

April 26, 2013
Shu Chen

Shu Chen
MSc-GH Student

This summer, I am excited and fortunate to have the chance to work with Eric Finkelstein at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School. We will be working on a study related to palliative, or end-of-life, care among cancer patients in Singapore – where there is a heavy burden of cancer. We will interview 500 patients at two Singapore hospitals with cancer from stages one through four. Our goal is to understand what information cancer patients receiving end-of-life care want to know in terms of their diagnoses, prognoses, and treatments. Specifically, we will examine the amount and type of information patients want to know and whether they feel adequately informed by their physicians or nurses. Knowing this information can help inform policy recommendations that facilitate physician-patient communication, which appears to be beneficial in patients’ decision-making especially to those advanced-stage cancer patients as they are faced with the choice between palliative and life-extending (often intrusive and expensive) care.

Choosing Singapore as my fieldwork site originates from my growing interest in studying non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Before I began the MSc-GH program at Duke, I had the chance to intern as a project manager at The George Institute for Global Health, China, where I was exposed to many interesting and important NCD studies. I also had the chance to be immersed in a rural Chinese village for two weeks and visit the families of recently deceased villagers to learn more about the causes of death. It was not until then that I realized what the terms “mortality” and “morbidity” meant in the real world. Like many countries, NCDs have become the number one killer in China, which accounted for 83% of total deaths in 2010, of which 21% were due to cancer alone. The number is astonishing, yet it doesn’t begin to speak to the diminishing quality of life of cancer patients and their families. The immense NCD burden and the urgent need to address the issue motivated me to pursue the Master of Science in Global Health at DGHI and to devote my career to NCD research.

My deep passion for end-of-life study in Singapore is no exaggeration. The moment I read about Dr. Finkelstein’s work, I knew it was exactly the kind of research of which I wanted to be a part.  DGHI provided substantial help to facilitate our connection. During the first year of my coursework at DGHI, I have been exposed to a variety of courses in global health, from the introductory course “Global Health Challenges” to courses on research design and epidemiology. The knowledge and skills I acquired have prepared me to scientifically plan the design, methodology and data analysis of my field research. In addition, thanks to the workshop series held by DGHI, I have learned how to manage the project in terms of logistics and be physically and psychologically ready for living in a foreign country.

With plane tickets and my visa in-hand, I am more than excited for the coming summer. I look forward to putting into practice all I have learned in the classroom so I can begin carving my own path to discovering solutions to today’s pressing NCD challenges.