Women We Love 2024: Nadiah Wan On Future Proofing Healthcare

Nadiah Wan tells The Peak about the future of healthcare and how financing and AI play a big role in how things turn out.
Text by Daween Maan

Nadiah Wan, Group CEO of TMC Life Sciences and CEO of Thomson Hospitals

My sit down with Nadiah Wan, Group CEO of TMC Life Sciences (TMCLS) and CEO of Thomson Hospitals gained me much insight of herself, her previous achievements and the healthcare industry in Malaysia, and the new situation* didn’t really affect our ability to reach those objectives.

Prior to TMC Life Sciences (TMCLS), the Harvard graduate started her career at The Boston Consulting Group before earning her Masters in Public Health Nutrition and joining Sunway Group. She worked her way up to the position of chief operating officer for clinical services at Sunway Medical Centre, then joined Thomson Hospitals in 2017 and assumed the role of CEO of the group in 2019.

“I didn’t really plan any of that,” she admits after I rattle off her stellar CV. “I had an interest in biology and knew I wanted to do something in the medical field, but it all just came together. Sometimes when you start something, and the more you do, things just fall into place.”

The interest in the medical field however wasn’t born out of chance.

“It impacts people’s lives,” says Nadiah. “The outcome of your work is very immediate; you’re literally saving lives and that hasn’t been clearer than the last few years during Covid. During the pandemic, we had to deal with logistics, financing, R&D and deal with the constantly changing environment. We started off thinking it was droplets, and then we learned and realised it was airborne. So, it’s things like that that make it challenging and interesting.”

She acknowledges however that the once-in-a-generation event that should have boosted the importance of medical science, and generated a greater trust in healthcare, has instead had the opposite effect. Despite pulling us through the pandemic—at great sacrifice to their own well-being—doctors and scientists are doubted more than ever.

“I think the level of disinformation with the internet and social media is very high. But I also think people believe a lot of it because they see companies who are profiteering and not having their best interest at heart. So, the most important thing is building trust.”

“You can see those countries where the population had better trust in the government or the healthcare system, they did much better comparatively. So, the experts, people like us in healthcare, and the government have to do a better job of communicating. Don’t make things so complicated. If you remember the first phase of Covid, we had over two hundred SOPs; who’s going to be able to understand that? And then they kept changing, but people think they’re being lied to; so there also isn’t enough awareness or scientific education for people to accept that the nature of science is learning and changing.”


Group CEO of TMC Life Sciences and CEO of Thomson Hospitals

That learning and changing is ushering in a new era of medical science according to Nadiah. She believes the use of Artificial Intelligence and automation will have a massive transformative effect on healthcare and healthcare policy in the very near future.

“I think healthcare is going to be massively impacted. There are a lot of startups out there that are looking at how we improve diagnosis using wide data to identify patterns. It’s never going to replace human interaction, but it will definitely help caregivers and doctors make better decisions.”

“The second thing is automation,” she exclaims. “We’re having a shortage of healthcare staff, and while I don’t blame people because being a nurse, or a doctor is stressful work, we have to look at where we’re going to automate the more repetitive work. That way the existing manpower can be moved to more high-value jobs that pay them better and retain them in Malaysia. The reality is we’re losing a lot of our staff to Singapore, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE and while that’s a function of macroeconomics, we need to do better to keep them here.”

‘Macroeconomics’ being a polite shorthand for ‘people want to get paid better’ Nadiah acknowledges that the flow of money through the industry is something that needs to be addressed, not only for the staff but for the wider population and their access to better healthcare.

“Financing for primary care is still a major issue. Most of our primary care comes from private GPs, which aren’t covered by insurance. Or you go to a Klinik Kesihatan but it’s very limited and people have to wait for hours. There is also a very valid fear that if you are insured and you do find something, will it be covered by your insurance? Then you have the elderly who can’t be covered because they are considered high risk, and the premiums are sky high.”

There are also certain types of care that are completely ignored due to the lack of financing, in particular: mental health.

“It’s not covered by anyone, right? So, nobody puts a focus on mental health. There are too few mental health professionals in this country who are properly trained and able to provide this service because it’s expensive – one therapy session could run to hundreds of ringgit and you can’t just go for one session.”


Group CEO of TMC Life Sciences and CEO of Thomson Hospitals

“So, we really need to solve health financing because if we looked at financing the whole continuum of care, over the average lifespan, the cost will be lowered.”

The most recent events aside, the last few years in her career clearly took a toll on Nadiah’s own health as she concedes she wished she had taken more time to smell the roses.

“During Covid, I was running the hospital, the listed company and also being part of the government task force, so I was not sleeping, I didn’t really see my family, and it’s only when you stop that you realise a lot of things that have happened while you were so occupied.”

“So, you have to realise what’s important in your life and get your priorities. When you’re younger, you tend to put a lot of emphasis into your career because you want financial stability, but at the end of the day, you have to also bear in mind what you’re sacrificing.”

“I’m not sure what’s next,” she says with a smile. “I’ve had an accelerated path, so I’ve literally been there and done that. Another thing I’ve learned over the last few years is how to say ‘no’ because everyone wants a piece of you, and you give out all these pieces without knowing what you’re losing.”

“So whatever it is I say ‘yes’ to next, it needs to be worth it, not just for me, but also the people important to me.”

*Note: The significant news broke the day before our interview with Nadiah Wan. At that time, she held the positions of Group CEO of TMC Life Sciences and CEO of Thomson Hospitals, but had just been suspended from these roles without public reasons provided. Our appointment with her had been scheduled several weeks prior to this event. At the time of publishing, there have been no updates on this matter.

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