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What Does It Take to Be a Doctor?

​In the first issue of INSIGHT in 2019, we take five with A/Prof Tan Hak Koon, SingHealth's Designated Institutional Official, to find out what being a doctor means to him and the things he is anticipating to accomplish in the coming year.

1. With more than 30 years in the medical profession, have you ever experienced doubts about being in the profession?

While being in Medicine may seem like a noble job with the power to save lives and relieve pain, Medicine is a tough line to be in, as it is filled with expectations from various parties. We have direct impact on the sick and play a pivotal role in one's mortality, there is little room for error.

Personally, I have faced many set-backs during my career in Medicine, from getting scolded by patients to having to deal with my mistakes. But I always tell myself that while I may have failed today, I will go back, have a good rest and try again tomorrow. It takes the right attitude – persistence and hard work, to endure the challenges of being in Medicine.

So, if I could choose my profession once more, my choice would be Medicine again.


2. What is one important lesson that your patients have taught you?

My patients have taught me time and again to remain humble. As doctors, we will never know everything and there will always be cases that will challenge our knowledge and skills, and make us doubt our own capabilities.

It is important to be open-minded and willing to learn from everyone, be it your patients, your colleagues or seniors at work, regardless of rank. Medicine is a team game and we have to learn to work together to achieve the best outcomes for our patients. There should be no competition but only team work, team work and team work. Focus your energy and passion on learning to the best of your ability and you will go far in this career.

3. How much time do you spend in the hospital each day?

Easily more than 10 hours. In fact, they say working in healthcare is a 24-hour job! Most of us spend a bulk of our days on campus (and even on festive occasions like Chinese New Year), but that doesn't stop us from enjoying our work. Instead, we try our best to make every moment at work interesting and fun!

4. What motivates you at work?

The people whom I work with. They are fun people. :)

Being the "cradle" of Medicine with the oldest medical school, people may think that we're very serious and boring. While we never take our work lightly, I can assure you that we, at SingHealth, play as hard as we work.

Many of us are colleagues turned friends, and we've really bonded over meals together. For example, my colleagues, who were on call during Chinese New Year ordered a spread and had their own mini reunion dinner celebration in the hospital. It is because of this warmth and camaraderie that I have stayed with SGH for the past 30 years, and I am really proud to call this place my home.


5. In your opinion, what is the main challenge that junior doctors will face in their careers?

Being a doctor is more than just curing a disease or relieving pain; there are a lot of factors at play and the job can get tough. Learning from the books to real life applications, the learning curve is steep for the first few years after medical school. Unlike the time in medical school, once in the field, one would have to interact with patients from all walks of life and they have feelings, as much as we do.

Thus, it is important to grow your passion in your job and have compassion for your patients. Constantly engage and connect with things that remind you of your passion in Medicine and help you to grow in compassion for your patients.


6. What are you looking forward to doing most in 2019?

I am excited about leading a mission trip to the city of Bhopal with a team of SingHealth doctors. We will be conducting simulation training for the doctors there to help reduce the maternal mortality rate in the city.

This is my second time heading to Bhopal and every time I go, I learn new things and gain fresh perspectives. I really enjoy going for mission trips with my colleagues. It always reminds me that Medicine has no boundaries, and it helps me to get my bearings right and puts things in perspective.