While it’s inaccurate to say that Singaporeans aren’t familiar with Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), most of our knowledge of the practice doesn’t go beyond liang teh (herbal tea) and procedures like acupuncture and cupping.
For avid jogger and founder of PULSE TCM Clinic Nicholas Poh, TCM was something he turned to mainly for pain and injury management.
An economics graduate from the National University of Singapore (NUS), Nicholas spent a decade working in the banking industry, but also dipped his toes in entrepreneurship by co-founding facial spa Renaza Wellness Lifestyle Lab and online pet supplies store KohePets.
However, it was a “eureka moment of inspiration” that made him take a leap of faith to start PULSE TCM Clinic, his first full-time venture.
“After consulting various TCM clinics for years, I felt a strong urge to energise the usual perception of TCM,” he shared in an interview with Vulcan Post. “[I found that there was a] need to differentiate and expand the reach of TCM.”
PULSE was never set up to compete with other TCM providers, but to broaden the reach of TCM.Nicholas Poh, founder of PULSE TCM Clinic
“That is also why we chose a bright yellow for our corporate colour. It sort of symbolises a new dawn for the industry,” he chirped.
He also observed during a TCM seminar that talent retention among the graduates of Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) double degree in Biomedical Sciences and Traditional Chinese Medicine was very low.
“[Most of them] either stopped practising after a couple of years or switched paths from day 1 due to the lack of opportunities in the TCM market”.
Thus, Nicholas also takes it upon himself to ensure that PULSE TCM Clinic is not just another job opportunity for these graduates, but a place where they can “nurture their skills and continue their passion for the industry”.
“I Had Zero Knowledge Of The Industry”
Just like most of us, Nicholas’ experience with TCM didn’t go beyond his occasional consultations.
“I had zero knowledge of the industry,” he admitted. “My main challenges were: how to start, who to look for, and how to improve.”
Regardless, Nicholas remained undaunted by the challenges, “jumping into each learning episode with suppliers with industry experience [and kickstarting] with friends who referred to more friends”.
“After all, entrepreneurship is about just doing it and then overcoming challenges.”
Nicholas is a strong believer that “differentiation emerges from a strong understanding of the current market”, and he knew that the market needed bilingual physicians who could “integrate modern science and TCM”.
With that in mind, he assembled a core team made up of a science advisor, experienced physicians and talented next-generation physicians.
Staying true to his mission to encourage local talent retention in the industry, PULSE TCM nurtures young graduating physicians through a Management Trainee programme which places them on rotation across the various areas of the brand.
“They pick up hands-on clinical experience, operations management, brand marketing, product development, and so on,” he explained. “Upon completion of the programme, they will hold dual roles according to their interest and level of competency.”
Beyond his ‘modern’ approach to HR, the physical space that PULSE TCM operates in is also modernised to induce a “wow factor” when patients walk in.
In March 2016, the first PULSE TCM Clinic opened its doors at Wheelock Place.
He revealed, however, that initial momentum was lacklustre as most were not aware of their clinic.
“It also took awhile for patients to warm up to the idea of a modernised TCM clinic with a team of young physicians.”
7 Clinics In 3 Years
Fortunately for him and the team, momentum picked up over the years “in a progressive manner”.
“We are still on the runway but are seeing a diversified portfolio of different races, younger locals, a growing pool of foreigners and also patients who are starting to be aware of their sub-optimal health symptoms like fatigue, stress, poor digestion.”
Most of PULSE TCM’s patients are in their 20s to mid-40s.
Within a span of 3 years, they have opened 7 outlets around the island – no mean feat for a new business in a rather niche industry.
Nicholas explained that this rapid expansion came because he felt that there was a need to “establish credibility fast, as a young healthcare brand”.
He shared that while most clinics are “still in their infancy stage”, they are already building towards a “regular pool of a few hundred patients monthly”.
“This is relatively small compared to the bigger brands, but we believe in the long term growth potential.”
Nicholas also shared that they have launched an AskPULSE online platform so that patients will be able to address their health concerns even more conveniently.
“Digital healthcare has also been our focus since day 1,” he said.
On the app, patients will be able to consult PULSE TCM’s physicians about their concerns without needing to make an appointment.
Understanding the importance and effectiveness of social media, Nicholas shared that the team spends “a lot of effort in educating the public on the benefits of TCM” via online articles and even health talks.
“This has attracted a younger group of patients who have never considered TCM as the ideal treatment approach in the past!”
Nicholas is also heartened to see a “surge in demand for local physicians from both the patients and recruitment front”.
“I just attended NTU’s 2019 Career Fair and experienced an increase in other brands pitching for these local (TCM) graduates.”
“TCM Is Not Just About Pain And Injury”
Ending off the interview, I asked Nicholas if he had anything he would like people to know about TCM.
“TCM is not just about pain and injury,” he started. “Fundamentally, TCM’s function is to maintain one’s optimal health. Living in today’s fast-paced environment drags our health to suboptimal levels, with nagging symptoms such as aches, stress and fatigue, which we often dismiss.”
These symptoms are not normal, yet usually not severe enough to seek western medicine. This is where TCM steps in – to provide a holistic treatment for one’s optimal health and well-being.Nicholas Poh, founder of PULSE TCM Clinic
“TCM also helps with beauty-related treatments like weight management, acne management and facial rejuvenation!”
As for his future plans for the brand, he is looking to set PULSE up as an “integrated brand across clinical, products, lifestyle concepts and digital healthcare development.”
“We do have some plans in the pipeline, but we’re keeping it hush-hush for now!”
I’d like to thank Nicholas for his time!
- Find out more about PULSE TCM here.