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The Best of Both Worlds

Dr Jeanne Tan

Juggling numerous roles is not easy, yet Dr Jeanne Tan, a year one Neurology Senior Resident, manages it well as a Clinician Scientist (CS). Even as a young girl, she was fascinated by the science of medicine and had a passion for helping people. When it was time to choose a career, she married her two loves. While her experience as a CS is extremely rewarding and meaningful, it is often filled with unpredictability. Bridging the gap between medical practice and laboratory work, Jeanne shares her tips for breaking into clinical science:

1) What sparked your interest to pursue the CS Residency track?

My interest in science started at a young age, and my aspiration to become a CS motivated me to apply for medical school. Being a CS allows me to bridge the gaps in medicine – literally from bench to bedside. The opportunity to utilize this knowledge is exciting and continues to fuel my interest in science. I have always enjoyed laboratory bench work and interacting with people. The CS Residency track also provides teaching opportunities at conferences and in academics.

2) How has a mentor inspired or encouraged you along the way? How did he/she nurture your interest?

I am blessed with many inspiring mentors; in particular, Assoc Prof Lim Kah Leong, Deputy Director (Research), National Neuroscience Institute, whom I worked under as a post-doctoral fellow prior to medical school. His guidance helped me sharpen my scientific skills as a junior scientist. I was given opportunities to get involved in many grant applications, major research projects as well as the teaching of graduate students. In addition, I had opportunities to participate in a short exchange fellowship and in international seminars.

Prof Lim provided me with a fellowship opportunity in John Hopkins Baltimore. There, I worked under Prof Ted Dawson – a very prominent clinician neurologist. I had an opportunity to gain insights into clinical neurology and learned about the importance of research in clinical medicine. This spurred my decision to pursue the CS Residency track in Neurology.

3) How do you balance the clinical load in your specialist program with the research work in the CS track? How has SingHealth Residency supported your interest?

Advancing in clinical work and research appeals to me and drives my interest. I have found setting boundaries and small targets useful when prioritizing tasks into bite-size portions to achieve a balance between my work and personal life.

Prof Tan Eng King, Associate Designated Institutional Official (ADIO) of Research at SingHealth Residency, gave me advice on research opportunities. He also went the extra mile to discuss with my Programme Directors (Internal Medicine for junior Residency, and Neurology for senior Residency) ways to integrate my CS training into the programs. I had the opportunity to work on ‘mini-projects’ which resulted in a few publications.

4) Share with us your thoughts on the CS Residency track. Were there any challenges, and how did you overcome them?

The CS Residency track guides CS Residents in their career growth by opening many opportunities for clinicians interested in research work. These range from training opportunities to a startup fund for grant applications, as well as valuable networking sessions for collaborations.

The greatest challenge is getting a team of Scientists and Clinicians to work together for a solution in clinical medicine. I am thankful for the opportunities that have come my way – my background in science and medicine have helped build this bridge.

5) What is the best thing about being in the CS Residency track? And what is the worst thing?

The CS Residency track provides many opportunities for different types of research and trains different types of clinical and research skills. It also provides the platform for CS to link up with researchers and facilities. The close proximity of research institutes is definitely an advantage. One major difficulty is finding time to do the research projects; however, it gets better with protected time in place.

6) What is the best piece of advice you have received as a young CS?

Work in an area you have passion in, and never stop asking questions.

7) Share with us your proudest achievement/moment in clinical research thus far.

The opportunity to present my research findings in the Cold Spring Harbor Conference 2008 to an audience comprising many prominent scientists – including Nobel Laureates.

8) Any advice for medical students who are inspired to pursue the CS Residency track?

Mentors and opportunities are very important in the pursuit of a CS career. The CS Residency track provides several opportunities and resources.

I strongly encourage students to use their elective/research module year to dabble in research, and be proactive in finding a mentor. In addition, they can approach the Programme Director of the CS Residency track or specialty Programme Director directly if they have an idea which specialty they are interested in.