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Reflections on the SingHealth Residency Leadership Programme. (SRLP)

The SRLP was an eye-opening experience for me. Even though I have worked in clinical medicine for close to a decade, this is the first time I have ever truly been engaged in cross speciality learning. Almost all of my career has been spent within my personal area of Residency (orthopaedics) save for a few out-rotations. The common theme in any department is that there is a tendency to start creating small ecosystems of isolated silos. There is an unwritten and fixed way of thinking and doing things which is “department approved.” Specialists are after all, very good at fixing specialist problems – but pretty much awful at everything else.

When faced with problems outside clinical medicine, it was fantastic to see the other Chief Residents from all specialities and fields working through the tasks and challenges presented by the course. I have experienced the different skill sets and mental approaches which arose due to the unique training of my fellow Chief Residents. To cite the cliché “many heads are better than one”, I was able to witness first-hand the power of a heterogeneous team at solving problems far removed from those found in the wards.

As a case in point, one of our tasks was to create a 2-meter-long rollercoaster capable of supporting a tennis ball using nothing but newspaper, balloon sticks and sticky tape! This is pretty much impossible to tackle as a single person, but with a team approaching the problem from all angles, we all succeeded in creating a series of rickety structures that were on the verge of collapse but… just… barely…worked! This process of collaboration led to a profound appreciation for my fellow Chief Residents. I believe we were able to bond as a cohesive unit marked by high levels of trust and teamwork.

It is in this unique group cohesion that the value of the Chief Resident scheme truly lies. Forget the “Self Leadership” or “Presentational Skills” courses. Most doctors are pretty good at self-mastery and presentation skills. Where they fall short is in developing an extensive network that goes beyond their own field. As healthcare and healthcare administration become more complex in the future, a collaborative multi-disciplinary team will be a pillar of Singapore’s strategy to stay ahead. My main accomplishment in the SRLP was to build the foundations of a network in which solutions or approaches to problems could be just a friendly phone call away.

Residency is a full time commitment, and being a Chief Resident is a full time commitment where 25 hours a day seems to be the expectation. One has to balance all the usual clinical duties whilst completing the additional administrative or teaching responsibilities which come with the role. Furthermore, there is a subtle pressure to produce work that is beyond reproach and be as well read and up-to-date as possible. Of course one’s personal life marches on. Personally, I have a two year old son and a long suffering wife. The way I balance these competing demands is to deliberately set aside “protected time” for the family over the weekends where we do at least one activity together as a family such as visit the zoo or go for a meal. Earlier in the year, I had explained to my wife the looming time commitments on the horizon. Hopefully, she was primed to my absence during the work week! I believe it helps to maintain open and honest communication with loved ones over work commitments. Humbug! My real secret sauce is: it helps to be married to an amazing and understanding woman!

The other thing I find essential in sustaining me through Residency is to simply spend some time on myself! As an audiophile, my outlet is listening to a good piece of music. There have been many times when I have returned home, nursing a persistent cloud of negative emotions only to have them clear on unwinding to some music. A hobby will bring pleasure when work gets too stressful or depressing, and will prevent one from entering a downward spiral of work stress; Nurture a hobby that keeps you engaged!