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Stepping into the Science of Medicine

Prof Tan Eng King

Prof Tan Eng King, a senior consultant neurologist and Clinician Scientist (CS) at the National Neuroscience Institute (SGH campus), is dedicated to guiding the next generation of young CSs in the pursuit of better patient outcomes. A role model for young clinicians, he has inspired many to pursue the CS Residency track and various national CS schemes. In this interview, Prof Tan reflects on the joys, challenges, and key ingredients to his success as a CS.

1) What inspired you to pursue a career as a CS?

As a young Clinician, I aspired to become a competent and compassionate doctor. However as time went by, I felt that our healthcare system can be better improved if we can find better ways to manage patients. My fellowship in the United States (US) helped me gain some new perspectives. I met two mentors, Prof Joseph Jankovic and Prof Tetsuo Ashizawa, academic Clinicians who were successful in striking a synergetic balance between patient care, academic work and research. They greatly inspired me to do more for our patients in Singapore. When I returned, the Ministry of Health introduced the CS scheme to facilitate academic research. This opportunity allowed me to join the national CS track.

2) What are some common misconceptions about research or being a CS?

The CS is often misrepresented as an incompetent clinician who does research to evade clinical work or portrayed as someone who spends a lot time in research at the expense of clinical care.

Another major misconception is that it is impossible to juggle time between training/service and research. Many CS have the passion to improve lives of our patients and engage in clinical translational research, managed to strike harmony between training and research. Furthermore, our current CS scheme provides protected time, generous funding support and mentorship guidance.

The CS Residency track is constantly improving by identifying and nurturing young CS’s strengths, catering to the needs of each individual to leverage on some of the strengths of Singapore’s healthcare system. The Ministry of Health and its funding agencies have developed a more structured system to identify budding young researchers at an earlier stage of training.

3) What challenges have you experienced so far as a CS, and how did you overcome them?

The two most common challenges faced by CSs have to do with securing grants and publishing research papers. However, I believe with proper guidance, the right attitude, passion and perseverance, one will find success.

4) What was your proudest moment as a CS mentor?

As a mentor, my proudest moments have always been able to witness my mentees’ enormous successes and happiness in their chosen fields. Their passion, enthusiasm and tireless efforts in doing what they enjoy most give me great joy and certainly inspire me to do more for them.

5) Do you have any advice for medical students who are keen to embark on the CS Residency track?

It is important to speak to seniors who have joined the CS Residency track to hear their positive views and concerns. It is also essential that they meet the Programme Directors to explore the various possibilities and support systems in their sub-specialty of interest.

6) How should medical students prepare themselves to be equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to pursue the CS Residency track?

They have to be competent as a clinician before considering a career as a CS. If they already have some research experience, it is easier to decide the areas they are interested in. They can approach potential mentors and have attachments in the different specialties to gain exposure.

Students who have no research experience can start by working on a small project and attending courses such as the Master of Clinical Investigation (MCI). Many workshops on scientific writing, publishing research papers and basic research methodology are available. These can help students to gain further understanding on how the research process works and equip them with some basic skills.

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