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Outstanding Clinician Scientists Residents and their Passion in Research


SingHealth Clinician Scientists (CS) Residents, Dr Feng Jiajun and Dr Vincent Tay, both from the Plastics, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery programme, won the inaugural National Outstanding Clinician Scientist Resident Awards 2017.

This national award honours and recognises Residents in Singapore for their outstanding performance and contributions in clinical training and research to improve patient care. The winners are selected by a panel of research committees, and only two awards were given out last year. Both awards were received by SingHealth Residents.

Read as Dr Feng Jiajun and Dr Vincent Tay share their passion in research on this CS Resident journey.

1. Congratulations on winning the inaugural National Outstanding CS Resident Awards! What do you think sets you apart from the other candidates?

Jiajun: I have always been interested in doing translational research in Medicine while I was working as a research scientist. When Duke-NUS offered me the opportunity to become a CS, I took it up without hesitation. Subsequently, I was accepted into the SingHealth Plastic Surgery Residency CS track. Conducting research, while undergoing a demanding surgical training, was a tremendously challenging task.

I believe my experience as a research scientist enabled me to clinch the research work faster. Eventually, I was able to secure a grant of $300,000 and establish collaboration between the SGH Burns centre and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) to work on a project on understanding the mechanism of burns conversion. I am very fortunate to have SingHealth's full support, which helped me progress along the track of a CS Resident. Currently, my research project is proceeding well with promising results, and at the same time I am also progressing well in my surgical training.

Vincent: I believe that having shown the commitment to pursue a career in science alongside Medicine put me at an advantage. The concerted effort by the SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medicine Research Institute (AMRI) in facilitating my development as a CS Resident certainly resulted in my successful bid for the award. In actual funding terms, I hold almost half a million dollars in grant funding as principal investigator – thanks to people (i.e. NMRC, AMRI, Khoo foundation) who believe in what we are trying to achieve. I do not see this as an individual award, but more as a message for SingHealth and Duke-NUS that we are going in the right direction facilitating the development of residents like us.

2. What sparked your interest to pursue the CS Residency track in SingHealth?

Vincent: I was a scientist in Defence Science before I became a clinician. My training in Duke-NUS has prepared me for a career both in Medicine and clinical research. It was intuitive to follow my passion in research in SingHealth. SingHealth's strong focus on clinical excellence coupled with Duke-NUS's foundation in world-class research and scientific network made this a natural choice.

Jiajun: During my third year in Duke-NUS, I was mentored by Plastic Surgeons, Prof Colin Song and A/Prof Ong Yee Siang, from Singapore General Hospital (SGH), in a research project that investigated the use of an artificial vascularized tissue for reconstructive surgery. The work culminated in a publication that I co-authored and in the process, it sparked my interest in plastic surgery and affirmed my decision to pursue a career as a clinician-scientist.

3. What inspired and kept you going in your research journey?

Jiajun: I believe the source of inspiration for a CS is from clinical practice. During my training at the Burns centre, I saw many burns patients suffer from burns conversion (burn wound becomes deeper and larger days after initial injury) despite the appropriate treatments. This experience spurred me to search for an answer and my search revealed that little is known about the molecular mechanism of the burns conversion, let alone an effective treatment.

Subsequently, I had the opportunity to meet Prof David Becker, who is a world leading scientist in gap junction and I started to look into the role of gap junction in burns conversion. Our initial results showed gap junction plays an important role in burns conversion, which is the basis of my research project. We are aiming to develop an effective treatment through this collaboration with engineers from NTU, to prevent burns conversion and help patients to recover better.

Vincent: My mentors have been instrumental in my progression through the years, and especially so when I went into uncharted waters as a pioneering CS resident. There are just too many of them to name. They have provided encouragement, "opened doors", "fended me from the wolves", and most importantly had faith in me. You will need many mentors and benefactors to help you sail through these waters and maintain your sanity!

4. How has this award opened up new opportunities for you?

Vincent: Despite my initial scepticism on the impact of this award, it has certainly helped me to be noticed in the right way. To some extent it helped me grow from that "nobody Resident" who was demanding things to help "move mountains", to a celebrated awardee that symbolises hope for the young CS and advance the institution's effort towards building an academic medical centre. Opportunities and assistance have been more forthcoming since then. The most recent being an offer for a research fellowship at the Karolinska Institute later this year.

Jiajun: This award is extremely valuable to me at this early stage as a CS. It is an honour and recognition of my Residency training. It has encouraged me to develop my career into a full-fledged CS. It will also help me to gain more support from my department and the institution in research developments. I believe the award will also open doors for me to establish collaborations with world renowned medical research labs in the future.

6. What are your future aspirations in Medicine?

Jiajun: Clinical research has already become an essential part of today's medical world, and its importance will only become more prominent. Projects like the one I am currently doing, tackles the practical problem of burns conversions from molecular level which might fundamentally change the way burns conversions are managed. Clinical researches like this will continue to have fundamental impacts on medical practice and patient management, which I believe is where the future of Medicine lies.

Vincent: I hope to continue my work in understanding and translating the benefits of adipose derived cells in plastic surgery and beyond. I believe in developing techniques and expounding knowledge that can be used without the constraints of patents and proprietary protective practices. The outcomes of medical research should be made available to everyone, wherever possible. It should not just be a commodity in the hands of business persons.