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It could have been by chance that Dr Yeo Yan Ting was asked to research transplant-related medicine as part of requirements for her pharmacy licence, but it was also a fervent interest and persistence in acquiring an understanding of the topic that led the young pharmacist to eventually specialise in transplant medicine.
“It was quite difficult as, at the time, the subject was not taught in school, so I had to research from scratch as well as consult my seniors,” said Dr Yeo (above), who is Principal Clinical Pharmacist, Pharmacy Department, Singapore General Hospital. “Transplant medicine is very exciting for me as a pharmacist. There are always new things to find out, new challenges to overcome. It’s also very fulfilling to be able to offer my inputs on pharmacotherapy to the transplant team during ward rounds and clinic consultations.”
As a transplant pharmacist, Dr Yeo optimises patients’ prescriptions to manage their long-term condition. Drug changes are frequent in the first few months after a transplant, and instructions can be confusing and complicated for patients. Transplant pharmacists need to make sure that patients take their medications correctly — in particular, their anti-rejection medicines — and that there are no issues with other medicines that they are taking.
Transplant patients take a cocktail of medications that include immunosuppression drugs to avoid their new organ being rejected by their body, but which make them more susceptible to infections. They often also take medications for other conditions, like diabetes, that may have contributed to the organ failure in the first place. “We counsel them and reinforce medication-related issues,” Dr Yeo said, adding that patients often have to make changes in their lifestyle to incorporate their more complicated, post-transplant medication regimen.
Dr Yeo, like the seven other transplant pharmacists in SGH, typically sees patients from the start of their transplant journey through to discharge from hospital and regular clinic reviews thereafter. She looks after mostly kidney and liver transplant patients.
She seldom encounters difficult patients, although problems crop up in unexpected ways. She remembers a patient in his 40s who spoke good English but yet had difficulty following instructions, so she had to think of ways to help him as he had little family support. “We had to teach him step-by-step what he had to do with all his medications, how much to take, when to take them. He began to slowly understand,” said Dr Yeo. She treasures such moments when her patients overcome their difficulties. She also enjoys the friendships that she builds with patients, especially when they share with her the milestones they celebrate, such as the birth of a grandchild.
The complexities of her job as a transplant pharmacist keep her energised and inspired. She loves working with her patients, many of whom are grateful for having a new lease of life following their transplant, said Dr Yeo.
Dr Yeo has come a long way since the time she accompanied her mother to a retail pharmacy. Then a young girl, she was so awed by the professionalism of the pharmacist there that she decided on a career in pharmacy. Along the way, she has had to make some changes, like giving up her ukelele lessons, especially as she now has two young children. She is grateful to her extended family, especially her parents and parents-in-laws, for helping to look after her children. At home, however, she keeps strictly to family time, only doing some work after the children have gone to bed. She also unwinds by meeting friends, going for walks in the park and the occasional swim.
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