Assistant Professor Sharon Tan from NUS Computing’s Department of Information Systems has long seen information technology (IT) as the way of the future. Hence, the NUS alumna, intrigued also by the dynamics and meaningfulness of the healthcare sector she was immersed in during her studies, made a conscious decision to dedicate her career to marrying the two highly relevant and emerging fields.
“I spent a lot of time interacting with patients, healthcare professionals and hospital management while pursuing my PhD at Carnegie Mellon University. I was particularly inspired by a nurse who had worked her way up to become the person in charge of spearheading the hospital’s IT initiatives, despite having no formal IT training. I also saw how challenging the work of the healthcare professionals was — the interruptions they experienced due to a lack of information, staffing and resource management issues, coordination issues — that got me interested in how technology could be used to help address these challenges,” she explained.
Today, the Academic Co-Director of the Centre for Health Informatics at NUS has made a name for herself with her research that synergises IT and social science in healthcare, her impactful work being published in top tier journals such as MIS Quarterly and Information Systems Research and presented at premier conferences such as the International Conference on Information Systems. Her current projects include developing curriculum for healthcare professionals, as well as the implementation of mobile and Internet of Things technologies in healthcare institutions and the community for successful ageing.
“The number of Singaporeans aged 65 and above is increasing rapidly as population growth slows, doubling from 220,000 in the year 2000 to 440,000 in the year 2015. This number is expected to hit 900,000 by 2030. Among the elderly, close to 10 per cent are living alone. The changing demographic not only increases healthcare costs but also the demand on healthcare services,” said Asst Prof Tan. Her pilot to develop and evaluate technologies for monitoring and service provision in conjunction with colleagues at NUS and the Image & Pervasive Access Lab has recently been introduced in 10 public housing flats.
In addition to lending her expertise to organising large-scale events like the International Conference on Big Data and Analytics in Healthcare, Asst Prof Tan also sits on the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore’s National Infocomm Competency Framework Expert Panel as well as the editorial board of the Journal of AIS. Last year, she appeared on Channel NewsAsia’s Perspectives, as part of a panel discussion on developing an integrated digital healthcare system to cope with Singapore’s urgent health challenges, an unmistakable nod to her influence in the field.
Honoured by the opportunity to serve the community, Asst Prof Tan is also heartened by the strides that have been made in this area. “There is definitely greater recognition and appreciation for women in science and technology today. It doesn't matter whether we are women or men, it’s how we can contribute that matters. This principle also applies to other disciplines,” she said.
Despite her hectic schedule, Asst Prof Tan makes it a point to practice what she preaches and remain physically active by going on long nature walks, cycling with friends or making use of her green fingers to grow her own herbs for cooking.
Like many women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), Asst Prof Tan faces her fair share of challenges and frustrations, which she tackles head on. “Every challenge creates an opportunity. It is important to have a positive and open mind. Time is scarce. If we focus on what we can’t do, we will have no time to embrace what we can do,” she emphasised.
This is the third of a five-part series by NUS News profiling some of the University’s prominent females making waves in STEM.