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Lending a Helping (Surgical) Hand


Dr Serene Thain

Hand Surgery is recognised as an independent surgical specialty in Singapore (the only other country where this is so would be Finland). Dr Darryl Chew, Consultant in the Department of Hand Surgery, Singapore General Hospital, quips cheerfully that Hand Surgery may be the only specialty, where “surgeons get to sit and operate for almost 95% of our surgeries! What a luxury!”

Behind Dr Chew’s sense of humour is a deep passion for his chosen vocation. He laughingly points out that Hand Surgeons are an obsessive-compulsive breed. “There is tolerance for only a small margin of error in this field,” he says. “One needs to be precise and detail-oriented — and be able to operate with finesse. Imagine working for a boss like this — it is a challenge if you are not as obsessive-compulsive as he or she is.”

Throughout the years, Dr Chew has learned much from the many Professors and Doctors who mentored him during his training. There is one lesson that he will always keep in mind — perhaps because it was never part of any curriculum or training plan. When he was in Texas for his Fellowship, he developed a bad cough. However, he decided to head to work anyway. The Professor who was his mentor at the time noticed his condition and — after prescribing him some medication — sent him home. Dr Chew eventually recovered but the Professor ended up sick. “Boy, did I feel bad! I had brought my Singapore work culture with me — no fever, no medical leave. But when I saw my mentor a week later, she was still coughing badly; she had caught my bug. After this experience, I realised that the work culture here too has to change, and that the change would start with me.”

Now, as a Physician Faculty for the SingHealth Hand Surgery Residency Programme, Dr Chew sees himself as a coach whose role is to give Residents direction and help them work toward their goals. “A good mentor is one who is interested in developing the trainee as a whole person — not just the medical or surgical aspect, but also their personal lives. This would make for a better overall surgeon who has a level head, a steady heart and a good pair of hands,” he explains.

The affable Hand Surgeon has this advice for medical students interested in Hand Surgery: The most important thing to remember is not to rush into Residency due to peer pressure. “This is a career decision that will affect your life,” Dr Chew says. “Thus, 20 years from now, you should wake up in the morning looking forward to work because you want to and not because you have to. Take the time to explore and discover your passion and interests. If you like delving into some bone work and some soft tissue work and a little microsurgical work, then you might well be suited for Hand Surgery!”

To find out more about Hand Surgery and why it has attracted so many of our dedicated Faculty and Residents, contact HandSurgeryResidency@singhealth.com.sg!