Choosing a medical specialty is one of the most important (albeit not the easiest) decisions that you will have to make in your medical career. Having been through this phase, our Chief Residents,
Dr Ngam Pei Ing (Nuclear Medicine Resident),
Dr Tan Tien-En (Ophthalmology Resident) and
Dr Tan Mui
Suan (Family Medicine Resident) share their unique perspectives and advices on finding the right fit in one’s choice of a medical specialty.
Dr Ngam Pei Ing
Dr Ngam is currently a third-year SingHealth Nuclear Medicine Senior Resident. She graduated from the University of Malaya Medical Programme (UMMP) before coming to Singapore to complete her PGY1 training. She is one of the first few Residents to have undergone the dual-accreditation programme in Diagnostic Radiology and Nuclear Medicine in Singapore.
Steve Jobs once said, "Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do." This quote really resonated with me and so, I spent some time exploring my options through the Medical Officer Posting Exercise (MOPEX) to find a specialty that I truly enjoy.
It was during one of these postings that I had my first encounter with radiology, where I witnessed how a comprehensive yet concise radiological report had helped to expedite the care management for a patient. Needless to say, I was captivated by the art of image interpretation and the great sense of satisfaction it gave me to know that my interpretation could help to change the lives of my patients. I decided to join the
Diagnostic Radiology Residency Programme and spent four amazing years working alongside my fellow Residents, Faculty and staff at the Diagnostic Radiology department. However, I felt something was lacking as I yearned for more patient interaction and ownership in patient care. It was then I decided to muster up the courage to sign up for the dual-accreditation programme in Diagnostic Radiology and
Nuclear Medicine in 2019.
Looking back, it was not an easy decision as I had to dedicate an additional two and a half years of my time, on top of the four years in Diagnostic Radiology, to complete this programme. The initial phase was no doubt challenging as after four years of exclusive diagnostic works, I was a little unacquainted with clinical work and had to work harder to catch up. Fortunately, with the help of my wonderful consultants, Residents and nurses as well as my passion for patient care, I managed to pull through!
My time as a Senior Resident in Nuclear Medicine has been enjoyable thus far. It is not too different from my experience in Diagnostic Radiology, except that I now have more research opportunities. While Diagnostic Radiology focuses on retrospective studies, Nuclear Medicine has a good mix of both prospective and retrospective studies, thereby giving us the opportunity to administer (radionuclide) therapy, review and follow up with post-therapy patients. The added experience of interacting with patients is indeed enriching!
The key to success is to do what you love and love what you do. Otherwise, every single step in your career will always be a huge challenge to overcome. Take time to explore and do not rush to commit to a specialty for any particular reason – be it peer pressure, glory of the job or ease of getting into the specialty etc.
Dr Tan is currently a fifth-year SingHealth Ophthalmology Senior Resident who graduated from NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine in 2014.
I quickly discovered in my clinical years in medical school that I preferred depth over breadth in a specialty, and that I really liked to understand specific topics and areas in great detail. Ophthalmology fits that bill very well, and has just the right mix of medicine and surgery for me. On top of that, I have always wanted to do something very ‘cutting-edge’, and Ophthalmology is really at the forefront of innovation in terms of new advanced diagnostics and therapeutics.
Probably the scariest thing when I applied to Ophthalmology was the fact that I had no actual clinical experience working in the specialty at the time. At that time, it was common for medical students to apply for Residency programmes in their final year of medical school, and that could be risky if the actual working experience differed from the experience as a student. I tried to overcome this by speaking to as many seniors as I could, to hear more about their experiences, and to see if the specialty was a right fit for me. Thankfully, it was and I have never regretted my decision!
When I actually started my training, it was intimidating because the early learning curve in Ophthalmology was steep. Thankfully, I wasn’t alone – I had other batch mates in my R1 year who had similar levels of clinical experience as I did, and it helped a lot that we were going through it together. Once I learnt the ropes though, I found the practice of Ophthalmology extremely rewarding and have never looked back.
Training in Ophthalmology, as with many other specialties, can be tough and demanding. However, I would suggest taking the 'long view' when deciding your specialty. Try to imagine yourself as a practicing consultant in that specialty – if that really excites you, then it will all be worth it!
Dr Tan graduated from NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine in 2015 and completed her Family Medicine Residency training in 2019. She is now a practicing Family Physician at Sengkang Polyclinic. Besides splitting her time between work and family, she is also embarking on the Fellowship Programme with the College of Family Physicians Singapore (FCFPS).
Without a doubt, Family Medicine is a specialty that I have always wanted to be a part of ever since I was in medical school. To me, family physicians are versatile in their ability to provide a comprehensive personal, primary and preventive care. The primary care landscape in Singapore is fast evolving to better cope with the rising complexities of a rapidly ageing population. Not only does this unique role allow continuation of care for the patient, the care is also extended to the patient’s family within the community.
Although I knew Family Medicine was what I wanted, I was uncertain if I was the 'right fit' for it, especially since I had limited clinical exposure prior to joining the
SingHealth Family Medicine Residency Programme. There were a lot of worries and questions running through my head as I wasn’t sure if I was ready to commit three years to a specialty that I had no experience working in. But I am glad that I had the courage to speak up and share my worries with my seniors, whom were helpful in addressing my concerns and eventually convinced me to join the fraternity.
My years in Residency were undoubtedly challenging but enlightening at the same time. Not only did the structured programme help to develop my skills and knowledge in this field, it also gave me the opportunity to meet many brilliant seniors and Faculty who were extremely forthcoming in sharing their tips and advices. Thanks to the insights they provided, I was able to better manage a wide spectrum of patients, from young to old, with simple to complex medical and surgical issues.
It is okay if you are still undecided on a specialty to specialise in. Take your time to rotate through various disciplines and do not rush into choosing on. Do not be afraid to speak to your peers, seniors and Faculty to gain a better understanding of the specialty's enjoyable aspects and challenges.
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