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Reflections of a New PGY1

Entering into SingHealth just this year, our latest batch of PGY1s went through the transition from being a student to assuming the role of House Officers (HOs). From working with clinical teams in various SingHealth institutions to meeting their first few patients, hear from our new PGY1s, Dr Jason Seah (NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine alumnus) and Dr Isabel See (University of Auckland, New Zealand alumna) as they share about their journey thus far.

​Dr Seah
​Dr See


1. You have begun your PGY1 journey this year. In three words, sum up your journey as a PGY1 thus far!

Dr Seah:

  • Camaraderie – I am thankful to have met very supportive colleagues and seniors, and to be able to forge friendships with them.
  • Excitement – From cases we have never come across before to patients whom we wouldn't know would leave an impression, one can never predict what one will encounter each day and that makes it exciting.
  • Growth – For continual growth, we should always learn on the job and to always be better than we were yesterday. 

Dr See: 

  • Hard Work With the great power that comes with being a newly minted doctor, also comes great responsibility and hard work in ensuring patients are well taken care of. There will be good and bad days, but I always tell myself to remember that whatever I do, patients come first.
  • Family – My parents (aka my main superheroes) sacrifice their sleep to ensure that I get to work on time in the morning and have food to munch on (sometimes my first meal of the day) whilst I am en route home at night. I cannot be more grateful for their unconditional love, care and concern. 
  • Lessons – I have learned many lessons from successes and mistakes. Things don't always turn out the way we envision it to be. Despite our best efforts, we will still lose some patients. Thus it is important to remind ourselves that the past is where the lesson is and the future is where we apply the lesson. 

​Dr Seah with his fellow MOs
​Dr See with her parents

2. What do you enjoy most about your PGY1 training thus far?

Dr Seah: The opportunities to learn and the companionship that have enriched my learning experience.

I am currently posted to Sengkang General Hospital (SKH)'s Department of General Medicine, which promotes a strong teaching culture. As a young doctor starting out, it is imperative that we get the early exposure to procedures and clinical scenarios. I will always remember what my mentor, Dr Tai Yee Shyn said to me in my first week as a HO, "If you don't learn as a HO, how will you know what to do as a MO?" 

As a SingHealth PGY1, I am never short of opportunities to learn. I am appreciative for the Consultants who reply blue letters and take time to teach me. Also for the ever patient Registrars who supervise and let me attempt bedside procedures, and Faculty who guide me through monthly PGY1 teachings and weekly tutorials (and make me feel like a medical student again!). I am also very blessed to have worked with many geriatricians from SKH. They have taught me invaluable lessons about having difficult conversations with families of my patients, and about holistic patient care.

And of course, the companionship with my fellow HOs and MOs in the hospitals has also help tide me through the toughest days in my PGY1 journey thus far.

Another bonus thing that has helped me to enjoy my training so far is the brand new laptops each PGY1 gets – a lifesaver on call!

Dr See: The people.

Quoting Bill Clinton, "We all do better when we work together. Our differences do matter, but our common humanity matters more." 

Transitioning from a medical student to a working medical professional is by no means easy. We become truly responsible for our patients. We endure sleepless nights when on call, long working hours, and workplace politics. All these are things that we were previously sheltered from as a student. Through this difficult transition, my truest friends have been revealed. 

I am very grateful for the peers who have reached out to me with a helping hand when the going got tough. They have stood by me through difficult times and continue to encourage and remind me of the bigger picture.

​Dr Seah with his colleagues in the wards.
​Dr See with her colleagues on their last day of labouring at KKH's delivery suite.

3. How did you choose your sponsoring institution?

Dr Seah: As a student, when I had rotations at SingHealth hospitals, I noticed the strong teaching culture in each department. Doctors place a good emphasis on medical education and we, as students, benefit tremendously from the bedside tutorials, morning teachings and lectures. There are many clinician teachers who are passionate about teaching and provide much support to junior doctors. 

Alongside the strong teaching culture, I was drawn to SingHealth because as the largest cluster in Singapore, junior doctors will be exposed to a myriad of cases. Altogether, these are invaluable to any junior doctor starting out and hence my decision to join SingHealth as a PGY1.

Dr See: Serving the needs of patients in one of the largest clusters in Singapore, I believe that SingHealth is a great place to train at for a junior doctor. Not only is there a diverse range of patient cases and pathologies to learn from on a daily basis, the cluster has numerous distinguished and esteemed experts from various fields. 

I also noticed there is a strong culture of research across medical specialties in SingHealth. This emphasis of evidence-based medicine helps us cultivate the good practice of ensuring that we keep ourselves updated with the latest advances in Medicine.

4. Share some challenges that you have encountered in your PGY1 journey. 

Dr Seah: My first posting in SKH was initially daunting because I had never done a posting in SKH and everything was relatively new. As a PGY1, I have to experience many 'first times', which causes me to worry about 'messing up' and compromising on patient care. But I soon learnt that no matter what we do, we are not alone. The senior doctors are always around to support us as we face these challenges. 

Dr See: Work as a HO has challenged me to be a better team player and communicator. As medical students, we were often directed by guidelines and learning objectives and given the freedom to choose the peers to work with. This is vastly different from our first postgraduate year, where, as junior members of the team, we have to liaise with our primary team and other healthcare professionals and be the first line of communication with patients and their family members. 

To deal with this, I approach things with a bigger picture in mind. I  learn to give and take, compromise to come to a resolution for the good of our patients, and have a quick debrief with a senior/peer if need be. 

Being an International Medical Graduate (IMG), it was challenging to begin Houseman year in a different country from which I was trained in. From drug names, name of medical equipment/apparatus, hierarchy within the medical teams, cultural beliefs to social architecture, these differences require time for adaptation and assimilation. On my first day in the wards, I vividly remember how lost and helpless I felt when I was told by a fellow HO to "start doing changes" before she hurried off. I had to find another HO to clarify what "doing changes" means. Through this, I realised that we should never be afraid to ask for help and clarify when in doubt.  Also, it is important to remain inquisitive, learn from mistakes, and continue to improve ourselves. In fact, we can use our overseas education and experiences to our advantage rather than let it be our stumbling block.

5. Share three pieces of advice for our future PGY1s. 

Dr Seah:

  1. Don't be afraid to ask many questions because learning should never stop.

  2. Don't shy away from difficult conversations and situations — it is through these that you will learn the most.

  3. Don't forget to take a break — work may be tough but always make time for family and friends. It is often such gatherings that will give you strength to continue what you are doing.

Dr See: 

  1. Ensure you have regular "rest & relaxation (R&R)". As a medical professional, there is a never-ending pile of work. Thus it is crucial to take breaks regularly, connect with our loved ones and set time aside to do the things we love. It has been proven by Psychiatrist, Robert Waldinger that "people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community, are happier, they're physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well connected". So instead of viewing socialising as a task, it is important to view it as an essential part of energising our lives.

  2. Engage in life planning. Medical school is a sheltered life that has taught us textbook knowledge and clinical skills but there is little guidance as to what work life entails. Hence, it is important for us to start taking interest and ownership in career and financial planning. Find a professional mentor or financial counsellor to seek advice on your goals and aspirations.

  3. Take criticism seriously, but not personally. Oftentimes, it is human nature to have a quick, emotional reaction to the feedback we receive. Instead, we should re-frame the way we view feedback. Always look at the bigger picture in any difficult situation and reflect on how to make use of the feedback to improve ourselves so as to bounce back stronger, wiser, and more resilient.

​Dr Seah having some bowling fun with his peers. 
TGIF! ​Dr See relaxing on a Friday evening with her fellow SGH General Surgery HOs after a long week at work.