Established in 2001, the HPB has a vision to build a nation of healthy people, being in charge of national health promotion and disease prevention programmes. We chat with two HPB scholars who have heeded this clarion call for better health consciousness.
[Left: Oon Yee Jeng; right: Brenda Tan Yue Lin]
By Oliver Sayson
“I was certain I wanted to embark on a career in the public service sector!” shares 20-year-old Oon Yee Jeng, when asked to describe her plans after completing the GCE ‘A’ Levels.
For 19-year-old Brenda Tan, it boiled down to a choice between specialising in psychological research or entering the healthcare sector.
“After much consideration, however, I realised it was most fulfilling for me to join the Health Promotion Board (HPB) and be part of an industry that improves people’s lives in a direct way,” affirms Brenda, while Yee Jeng adds, “HPB balances a good mix of the public service sectors I’m interested in – healthcare, education, and community development – in order to educate and encourage the public to pursue healthy lifestyles.”
Their minds made up, these two young ladies applied for and successfully clinched the scholarship of their dreams – the HPB Overseas Merit Undergraduate Scholarship.
Kindling the Fire
Both scholars decided to read psychology in the UK – Brenda at the University of London and Yee Jeng at the University of Edinburgh.
On her choice of degree, Brenda replies, “I’ve always had a strong interest in the way people behave, how their minds work, and the general principles that govern human behaviour. More importantly, I’m intrigued by how non-material possessions such as improved health can unanimously lead to a better state of mind and a happier individual.”
Yee Jeng explored all the possible career paths open to a psychology student and was pleased to note that the subject was compatible with a career in the public service. The 20-year-old was further thrilled by the prospect of studying overseas, which would allow her to experience living independently in a foreign country and immerse in a new culture.
“I find it a rewarding challenge to be out of my comfort zone; hopefully, I can offer a fresh perspective on health promotion when I return to Singapore,” she explains.
Similarly, Brenda chose an overseas education because of the more rigorous curriculum and cutting-edge research conducted in psychology.
“I wanted to gain as diverse an experience as possible and immerse myself in a place that lives and breathes psychological knowledge,” she says. “Studying overseas adds to the diversity of my experiences and enables me to see things from multiple viewpoints. This is an essential skill for health promoters when we try to understand how people view health as part of their lives.”
Getting into the Zone
With the vast knowledge they have acquired overseas, how do both scholars intend to contribute back to the local healthcare system?
“Psychology graduates have the choice of going into several different divisions as all HPB programmes require knowledge and understanding of human behaviour,” explains Yee Jeng.
“In the programme departments, for instance, officers work in project teams to plan and execute health promotion strategies in their specific areas of focus. Officers can also enter the Community Partnerships Division, which engages the public through grassroots associations to implement HPB’s programmes.”
Upon graduation, both scholars aspire to work in the HPB’s Adult Health Division.
“I want to develop programmes for dementia and depression education and prevention as I have a very strong interest in mental health,” says Brenda, while Yee Jeng confesses she feels drawn to the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Departments as well as the Healthy Ageing Division.
Pillar of Support
On the learning opportunities that HPB gives scholars, both ladies had much to share.
“Before I flew to Edinburgh in September for the start of the university term, HPB sent all its scholars on a one-week job-shadowing programme to familiarise them with the job scope of each division,” says Yee Jeng.
“The scholarship also comes with a summer internship at HPB and I’ve just started mine in June, in the Substance Abuse Department under the Adult Health Division. I look forward to an enriching experience this summer!”
Brenda chips in, “The internship can be done in any division on any programme if sufficient notice is given and there are available mentors.”
So what qualities do they think a HPB scholar should possess in order to excel?
Brenda believes that what a HPB scholar should have is a keen interest in wanting to improve the health of others. She notes, “The ability to work well with others is also important. HPB scholars must be empathetic and considerate towards both co-workers and beneficiaries of the health programmes while keeping in mind the eventual goal of health promotion.”
Yee Jeng, too, emphasizes the need to believe in the cause that HPB is working towards.
“It is good to explore new health promoting strategies and not be afraid of venturing into new areas. At the same time, it is also crucial to review the effectiveness of existing programmes, modify them if there is room for improvement, and ensure that the initiatives are sustainable,” she advises.
Standing out from the Crowd
More than just talk, both Yee Jeng and Brenda prove their passion for health promotion through concrete action. Even before landing the HPB scholarship, both avid scholars participated actively in community activities and demonstrated their leadership capabilities.
Brenda stood out by volunteering in activities specific to her interest in mental health education and prevention.
“I did an internship at the pastoral counselling unit in my high school where I encountered first-hand the nature of mental health and the spectrum along which problems could range. I also volunteered at the Institute of Mental Health and visited patients in the wards once every fortnight,” she reminisces.
Yee Jeng, on the other hand, fervently believes that what is more important than credentials is the motivation underlying the participation in activities as well as the lessons learnt from those experiences. “Perhaps my involvement in the Student Council and various community projects showed my desire to serve,” she explains.
Before we wrap up the interview, we ask both scholars if they have any useful tips to share with students hoping to pursue a career with the HPB.
Yee Jeng cautions, “Only apply for the HPB scholarship if you are truly interested in furthering your career with the organisation. After all, the training and development that comes with the scholarship empowers the individual to give back to the organisation and society.
As for the interviews, I think it is most important to be confident, honest and stay true to yourself, because the selection process is also about the compatibility between you and the organisation.”
“Being sure of your career choice is important because six years is a long commitment to make. So do your research, try possible career paths by taking up internships or volunteering, and let who you are shine through!” Brenda exclaims.