Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC, at the Second Reading of the Dental Registration (Amendment) Bill (Bill No. 16/2021)
Sir, we are facing a supply crunch in dental care.
It has become necessary for Singapore to open its doors to graduates with foreign degrees in dentistry to supplement our locally trained dentists.
As early as 2017, the Ministry recognised that there were not enough locally trained dentists to handle all the demands for dental care and set the goal of achieving the ratio of at least 1 dentist to 2,200 people.
In doing so, it is also important to ensure that there is some standardisation in the dentistry care that is provided in the industry.
This Bill helps to ensure that we strike the right balance between opening our doors and ensuring consistency in the profession.
I have three points of clarification.
Qualifying Examination for Foreign Degree Holders
My first point is on the implementation of the Qualifying Examination for foreign degree holders.
Currently, the Singapore Dental Council (SDC) already administers a Qualifying Examination for graduates with foreign dentistry degrees from universities not specified in the Schedule to the Dentistry Act.
The amendment to Section 14A will expand this requirement to all graduates with foreign dentistry degrees, whether specified in the schedule or not.
The SDC’s website states that an applicant only has two attempts at the Qualifying Examination which must be taken within 12 months of each other.
The feedback from the ground is that the Qualifying Examination is very stringent and the failure rates are fairly high.
I agree that we should set the bar high for the profession. The fact that we have a number of graduates who are failing the Qualifying Examination is not a reason to lower the bar.
However, we should consider giving more time. With more time to practice and study, with more opportunities to attempt the exam, many dentistry graduates may eventually qualify and help alleviate the supply crunch facing the industry.
Can Minister share if the Ministry is considering increasing the number of attempts allowed at the Qualifying Examination?
Can Minister also share if the Ministry is considering increasing the duration of 12 months between attempts, even as a temporary measure, considering the present circumstances of the pandemic?
In addition, can Minister share whether there are plans to provide increased support or training programmes for those who are struggling to pass the Qualifying Examination?
Dentistry is an extremely specialised degree, and these graduates have spent many years applying themselves at it.
It would be a shame to end their aspirations after just two attempts at the Qualifying Examination, especially when it is always possible to improve.
Alternative pathways for graduates with foreign dentistry degrees
My second point is on alternative careers for Singaporean graduates with foreign dentistry degrees.
While there is likely to always be a proportion of graduates who are not able to pass the Qualifying Examination, this group of graduates may nonetheless possess some meaningful skills from their years of higher education.
Can the Ministry share if there are alternative pathways within the dentistry industry where we can channel this group of graduates into so that these graduates can nonetheless pursue a career in the industry and help reduce our supply crunch?
Effectiveness of measures in dentistry industry
My final point is on the present status of the dentistry industry.
It is apparent from the 2019 Dental Association survey that we are some distance from easing the supply crunch.
Can Minister share more details about its progress in meeting the goal of a ratio of at least 1 dentist to 2,200 people?
How effective have the measures adopted since 2017 been in easing the supply crunch?
Are there plans to further increase the local intake of dentistry students to meet the population’s dentistry care needs?
Notwithstanding the above clarifications, I stand in support of the Bill.
Watch the speech here.