Published on 08 Mar 2022
When patients call to make a dental appointment, Chan Siew Eng always tries to make sure they get to see a dentist as soon as possible.
She knows there’s nothing worse than having to endure a bad toothache.
But before she gets to book that slot for the patient, some of them insist that Siew Eng must also be around at the clinic that day.
“They come here, they ask me, ‘When are you on leave? You let me know, I don’t want to come.’
“There is this patient, before she comes, she’ll call and ask, ‘Is Siew Eng around today?’ If I’m on leave, she’ll cancel the appointment,” Siew Eng shared.
This says a lot about the 50-year-old patient service assistant (PSA) who has been working at NTUC Health Denticare for half her life.
Although not a dentist, she works just as hard to bring smiles to patients she meets every day.
“I think most of the patients who come here, when they first step into the clinic, if they’re comfortable, they will surely come back. If they don’t feel comfortable, they won’t come back.
“Recently I had a patient, his wife came in … I can’t remember why I talked to her. Then at the end of the day she told me, ‘You made my day. Early in the morning, you made my day.’
“So that made me feel very, very proud,” she said.
Siew Eng joined Denticare in 1996 as a dental assistant. Although she didn’t have formal training in dentistry, she came to the job with experience gained from working at another clinic.
She shared: “The dentists were very willing to teach. They don’t just look at your qualifications or certificates.
“They said, ‘If you’re willing to learn, we are willing to teach.’ So from there I learnt a lot of things – how to assist the doctor, what teeth are like … from all these years until now, I learnt a lot.”
Her work as a dental assistant required her to assist dentists at different Denticare branches around Singapore. Wherever she was needed for the day, there she would be. It was a physically challenging job that required her to be on her feet most of the time.
So when she became pregnant with her second child, she took on the role of patient service assistant – a less taxing yet equally challenging role.
“From dental assistant to PSA was totally different because as an assistant you only face the dentist and the patient, and you don’t need to talk so much.
“As a PSA, it is different. You face a lot of patients and patients will ask a lot of questions. You have to share all your knowledge with the patient.
“This is why I’m lucky, because I know what it’s like being a dental assistant and what the dentist is talking [about]. So I can explain a lot,” she said.
This is perhaps another reason why some regular patients value her presence at the clinic.
“Even my patients say, ‘Hey you are not a PSA, you know, you’re a doctor! This is what one of my patients always calls me, “Dr Chan, Dr Chan!” she said with amusement.
In many ways, Siew Eng grew up with Denticare. She was single when she first started there.
“I didn’t even have a boyfriend. After I joined, I had a boyfriend, then I got married, then I had three kids,” she said.
Denticare has expanded as well – from its first clinic in 1972 at Corporation Drive to 18 outlets all over Singapore today. Its mission was to provide quality dental services to all workers at affordable rates when it first started. And its mission has remained the same since. Assistant Director at NTUC Health Dr Goh Siew Hor spoke about Denticare’s growth, not just in its footprint, but in the scope of services as well.
“From just a provision of basic services, we now do quite a number of advanced procedures like root canals, crowns, and surgeries. This is really to cater to the modern aspirations of Singaporeans,” he said.
Siew Eng is proud to have been with the company from its early days until today, its 50th year. She has come to regard colleagues and patients as family.
“You feel that this is home. When you come to work, you feel like, ‘Oh this is my home, this is my life.’
“I really enjoy my work,” she said.
This article was first produced on NTUC LabourBeat on 7 March 2022.
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