Dr Patricia Neo
A medical practitioner with boundless compassion for palliative care, Dr Patricia Neo has been focused on establishing her goals in this field. As Clinical Director of Assisi Hospice, she is turning her compassion towards building a sustainable ecosystem that will render the love, compassion to patients efficiently. Read more about her work for growing Assisi Hospice’s medical capabilities.
“I wish I can do more!” these were the thoughts that were echoing in Dr Pat’s mind as she looked at David* nodding off in drowsiness. As Dr Pat reached out to David, he awoke quickly at the touch but continued to complain of severe breathlessness.
Dr Pat was caring for cancer patients as a young house officer in a hospital, fresh from medical school in 1997. David was one of her first young patients, only in his thirties but had exhausted all options to treat his stage four lung cancer. His illness made him very breathless, and for the sake of communicating with his young kids, David had expressed his wish to stay alert. Despite oxygen, nebulized medication and oral opioids to relieve breathlessness, David was still in distress.
Looking at David, it dawned on Dr Pat that there’s a lot that can be done to make patients feel comfortable at the end of life.
YUN SHAW, 1999
“Hi Dr Pat!” said Yun Shaw*. Dr Pat put on her biggest smile for her favourite 15 year old patient. It was always a pleasure to see Yun Shaw because she was bright and mature beyond her years. The home care visit usually started with checking that the growing tumour across Yun Shaw’s chest was adequately dressed and coaxing her to tell the truth about her pain experience. Many times, Yun Shaw tried to bear the pain so as to not to worry her parents.
“When I first met Yun Shaw, I felt that life was so unfair”, shared Dr Pat. Yun Shaw was young and full of dreams. She loved her parents and her intellectually disabled younger brother. She was the pride of her parents and because of her sweet personality, she was very popular with her friends. When she suffered from Ewing’s sarcoma (a rare bone cancer), it was a big blow to her parents and their distress grew as they witnessed her deterioration and growing level of pain.
“I was still a young medical practitioner, struggling with my own feelings of sadness. I kept asking myself if I was managing her pain well enough”, said Dr Pat. Despite her self-doubt, Pat with a team of nurses and social workers continued to provide round the clock care for the family during their difficult time. After Yun Shaw’s demise, her family expressed their gratefulness to the team for supporting them through Yun Shaw’s final journey. The fact that the team was there whenever the family needed support and the team’s love for Yun Shaw meant a lot to the family. That’s when it struck Dr Pat how valuable palliative care is, and that there is much to do in the community.
Both David and Yun Shaw played a part in Dr Pat’s decision to specialise in the field of palliative care, instilling in her the belief that quality and compassionate palliative care is important and valuable.
*Name of patients have been changed
ASSISI HOSPICE, 2003 to 2009
“I was attached to Assisi Hospice as a medical officer and registrar at various time points during my medical training. The home care team is one of the best I have seen”, Dr Pat recalled of her earlier days in Assisi.
“What impressed me about Assisi Hospice was the dedicated and loving staff I worked with, not just in home care but also in the inpatient wards as well as day care. They often went the extra mile to support patients and address their needs so that patients and families could spend more time at home or in the hospice, avoiding unnecessary hospital admissions. In order to address the patients’ and families’ concerns in a timely manner, the team was available 24/7 and took pride in being responsive to patients and their families.. The team of doctors, nurses, social workers, speech/art/physio/occupational therapists and pastoral care workers demonstrated high levels of commitment, working cohesively to provide comprehensive and compassionate care to patients and families.
With their reputation for holistic care, Assisi Hospice often received referrals of complex cases with high psychosocial and spiritual burden. There was much to learn; not just from staff but also from patients and families. It was a privilege journeying with patients and families, being able to share their joy and sorrow, and hopefully bringing them comfort with our presence. The enriching experience I had as a junior doctor was invaluable and left an inedible mark.”
The inspiring care in Assisi Hospice showed Dr Pat what a committed team can do and how precious the work can be.
ASSISI HOSPICE, 2015 onwards
Dr Pat took on the medical leadership in Assisi Hospice in 2015. Despite her already full schedule, she felt burdened for her co-workers in the sector and is driven to uphold the model of care she has seen in Assisi Hospice.
Her personal goal is to ensure provision of quality and compassionate palliative care is sustainable. The care which Assisi Hospice is providing is highly demanding and the team faces the danger of burn-out. In addition, as the national healthcare landscape evolves, there is a need for to re-examine the existing service model and to develop education and research capabilities.
She hopes to build an ecosystem marrying evidence based practices in palliative care, improved workplace efficiency and increased staff satisfaction, yet retaining the love, compassion and patient-centred care that has defined palliative care in Assisi Hospice all these years.
With the move to the new Assisi Hospice, Dr Pat will also lead the team to provide palliative care to children and persons with dementia in specially designed wards within the new 85 bedded hospice building. The dedicated space will allow staff to design new models of care and expand support services to patients and families. The new building space will also facilitate the development of an education centre as well as a dedicated programme for grief and bereavement.
Profile of Dr Patricia Neo
Dr Patricia Neo is the Clinical Director of Assisi Hospice, leading the medical team of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and allied health workers in providing compassionate and quality palliative care to our patients. She is also the Deputy Head of Division of Palliative Medicine, National Cancer Centre Singapore and Vice-Chairman of Singapore Hospice Council leading the implementation of National Guidelines for Palliative Care.