There’s a bit of an urban myth surrounding Professor London Ooi.
The story goes that merely by feeling a patient’s stomach, Prof Ooi was able to tell what the person ate at breakfast. True or false?
“That was a joke. But it’s true that you can tell by looking at a person what is wrong with him. I was teaching some advanced trainees in surgery some years back, and they were surprised that before touching the patient, just by looking, I could tell if the patient has big liver, big spleen, or tumour,” said Prof Ooi.
“This skill, which some call having x-ray vision, comes from observation, from looking and from sensing. That is a skill that’s progressively not being taught and developed over time, mainly because of technology.”
Students and clinicians alike, he said, tend to head for a scan like CT or MRI first to help them diagnose. “So you lose the ability to see and conclude. Sometimes, old skills don’t necessarily have no value. They have value in guiding you on where to go next. Tech helps you confirm what you have observed or diagnosed.”
Prof Ooi sharpened his observation skills as a young student. When travelling on the bus, he would look at other passengers. “You are like a detective, trying to pick out subtle differences between individuals. You pick up signs, how they walk or sit. The more you see of the ‘normal’, the more you can pick out the ‘abnormal’,” he said.
“That’s how clinical skills are taught,” he said.
Unfortunately, though, that skill is being lost because people tend to be too busy to look around them. “By default, the thing that we see most is our handphone. We then don’t learn to see what is normal,” said Prof Ooi, this year’s National Outstanding Clinician Mentor Award winner. Apart from x-ray vision, Prof Ooi also has a talent for drawing that began in Primary One with sketches of airplanes and Ultraman. About five years ago, he illustrated "OT-quette", a light-hearted cartoon guide featuring the Surgical Bears to teach proper behaviour in the Operating Theatre for a safe and risk-free environment. The Surgical Bears were also Prof's idea conceptualised in 2008 to raise funds for the SGH Needy Patients Fund.
What is not a myth is his patience, collegiality, unstinting generosity and magnanimity in imparting knowledge, skills and values to younger clinicians and other staff. Even today, Prof Ooi continues to find the time for students and younger doctors seeking extra tutorials before exams. While he is always ready to share his knowledge and experience – “I enjoy teaching and seeing them grow into good surgeons” - Prof Ooi thinks it’s more important that the values and generosity of spirit that he holds true be instilled in them as well. That, he contends, is the true meaning of mentoring.
Only then will the students and clinicians he has taught be just as ready to share their knowledge and experience with the next generation of clinicians. “If you mentor them right, they will do the same as you over time,” Prof Ooi said.
Professor London Ooi, Senior Consultant, SGH Hepato-pancreato-biliary and Transplant Surgery, was awarded the 2019 National Outstanding Clinician Mentor Award for imparting knowledge and skills, as well as strong values of generosity and collegiality to young clinicians and other healthcare professionals throughout his career.
He recalls the time when after finishing his surgical exam, his examiner told him he wouldn’t teach him anymore. “His point was that I would start competing with him for patients,” said Prof Ooi.
“That’s the wrong approach to take. Each one of us have skills in different areas. I’m often learning from the young ones, like robotics (surgery). We should be generous with what we have.”
Thank you for your years of guidance and support, not only in the work as Head, but also in other aspects of medicine, since I was a medical student. Dr Tan Lay Guat (16/10/2015)
Thank you for coaching us for the exit exam, and being a role model for us in public service.Dr Cherylin Fu, Dr Veronique Tan, and other students about their Exit FRCS (March 2012)
I would like to thank you for all that you done for our surgical division over the last 9 years. Leadership is about touching and making a difference to people’s lives, and I hope you find a lot of comfort and pride in knowing that you have done just that. I am grateful for the opportunities you have given me to grow, to develop and groom me for bigger things, and I have learnt much in the process, and am especially happy to have established great bonds and friendships with my other surgical colleagues within the division, which otherwise may not have been possible. Thanks also for the invaluable advice and guidance you have given me over the years, through the good and bad times. You have touched my life and I am eternally grateful for that. Associate Professor Andrew Tan (when Prof Ooi stepped down as Chairman, Division of Surgery. Prof Tan was then director of SGH Surgical Skills Centre and deputy HOD, SGH Orthopaedic Surgery.)
A far-sighted leader, you were supportive every time we introduced a new service, be it the Early Pregnancy Unit or Down Syndrome screening. Despite your busy and demanding schedule, talent development was always your priority and you sent me for the Organisational Leadership Programme. I might not have understood everything taught at the OLP, but it certainly triggered some self-reflection on my part. At my yearly appraisal, you will set goals for me and the department, while at the same time, reminding me to achieve work-life balance and not burn out. My husband and daughters join me in thanking you for this.Dr Tan Wei Ching
Thank you for being a mentor to me and for being there when advice is needed, for being supportive in many ways, for standing by the department in times of need. I do value these as they are not easy to come by. Wisdom is like good wine that takes many years to mature. After all the years, one cannot but develop the insights into things that many cannot see. I could feel your satisfaction of completing the good race and handing over to a good successor, something I too hope to achieve one day. As you embark on work that you had perhaps always wanted to do more of for the last nine years, may I wish you continued success, blessings and peace.Associate Professor Tang Choong Leong (when Prof London Ooi stepped down as Chairman, Division of Surgery. Prof Tan was then HOD, Colorectal Surgery.)
A true academic surgeon. An all-rounder who has made impactful contribution to our AMC. Well-respected and a role model for academic surgeon.Dr Tan Hiang Khoon, Div Chair, Surgery, SGH
I was very impressed by your contributions to the Division of Surgery and to SGH in your tenure as Chairman Division of Surgery. The litany of achievements in your Farewell Message speaks volumes of your dedication and leadership in your capacity as Chairman of the Division of Surgery. You and your team have introduced so many new ideas and refinements to the surgical division that other divisions could emulate to improve the function and operation of the day-to-day duties and inspire the vast numbers of the staff at all levels to work as a team to achieve the goals you set up. This is no mean task and as a previous Chairman of Surgery, I should know. Under your strong and inspiring leadership, you have successfully galvanized the surgeons, nurses, technicians and admin staff to give of their best to improve patient care and train the next generation of surgeons in the very best tradition. Emeritus Professor Charles Ng, former Chairman Medical Board and Chairman Division of Surgery, SGH (when Prof London Ooi stepped down as Chairman, Division of Surgery)
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