Pioneer in palliative care in Singapore
For more than two decades Cynthia Goh has worked to establish and transform palliative health care in Singapore. Several years after getting her medical degree in 1974 from St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London University, she moved to Singapore. She started as a volunteer doctor at the St Joseph’s Home and Hospice in 1986, a time when there was little recognition in Singapore of the need for hospices and palliative care. In 1989, together with some other volunteers, she set up the Hospice Care Association. Cynthia is senior consultant at the Division of Palliative Medicine at Singapore’s National Cancer Centre. She was the founding centre director and is currently deputy chair of the Lien Centre for Palliative Care.
Cynthia graduated from St Bartholomew’s Hospital, University of London, in 1974 and trained as a specialist in internal medicine. In 1981 she moved to Singapore and five years later began working as a volunteer doctor at St Joseph’s Home and Hospice where the Canossian Sisters had just extended their care from the elderly to include terminally ill patients. As the work expanded, Cynthia helped to organise the volunteers to visit terminally ill patients in their homes, providing medical and nursing care and support.
It was the genesis of Singapore’s hospice movement. At that time, in the mid-1980s, there was scant recognition in Singapore of the need for such services. Cynthia and her team of volunteers had to build up their skills by reading journal articles and consulting doctors in London to find out how best to control pain and other symptoms.
From St Joseph’s Home, Cynthia and her co-volunteers started a hospice home care service under the Singapore Cancer Society. This eventually led to the formation of the Hospice Care Association (now HCA Hospice Care) in 1989. In 1995, the Singapore Hospice Council was registered to serve as an umbrella body for the various hospice and palliative services which by then had developed in Singapore.
In 1999, Cynthia was tasked with setting palliative care services at the National Cancer Centre and Singapore General Hospital. This eventually led to palliative medicine being recognised in 2006 in Singapore as a medical subspecialty, as it is in the UK, USA and Australia.
Today, because of her determined efforts to ensure that everyone who needs palliative care should get it, a range of hospice and hospital palliative care services is available to people suffering from life-limiting illnesses such as cancer, end-stage organ failure, HIV, motor-neurone disease, dementia, strokes and other neurological conditions.
Currently, Cynthia is Senior Consultant at the Division of Palliative Medicine at Singapore’s National Cancer Centre. She headed the Department of Palliative Medicine there from 1999 to 2011. She was the Founding Centre Director and is currently Deputy Chair of the Lien Centre for Palliative Care, Asia's first palliative care research and training centre at the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School.
Cynthia is also the Chair of the Asia Pacific Hospice Palliative Care Network (APHN), and co-chair of the Worldwide Palliative Care Alliance (WPCA). She is active in training and education in palliative care within the Asia Pacific region and in advocacy for palliative care worldwide.
"I warn people when they come into this field: ’Be prepared to be changed’.
We see so much suffering and we get so close to people. It is life changing…"