A Road Less Traveled

Having come from a humble background, I have learnt from an early age, to appreciate the many simple things that life offers.  Growing up with 3 siblings in the family has taught me loyalty and the importance of sharing with one another.  My parents worked hard to give each and everyone of us a good education and a solid foundation to build our characters. They are simple hardworking people whose sacrifices were to give us the best start in life.

Although I had always wanted to be a veterinarian, my parents were unable to afford an education overseas, as this would inevitably wipe out all their savings meant for all of our tertiary education locally. Studying hard to get into Medical School in the National University of Singapore seemed to be the most logical and feasible option then. This marked the prelude to my “Life in Medicine”….

Becoming a doctor was an easy decision as I always felt the need to help the sick and needy.  In medical school, amidst all the studying, I became more determined to achieve my goal to be a good doctor so that I could be of service to the community and nation.  I met all types of people from all backgrounds and I felt very humbled in some situations.  My first day at work as a house-officer in the hospital was unforgettable – I was rostered to be on duty on my first day at work!  Being new and unfamiliar with my working environment, I had to quickly familiarize myself with my duties and my patients.  I worked non-stop from 7 in the morning till 12 midnight before I had my first meal and drink for the day.  After which, I had to continue working till 1 in the afternoon the next day before I could go “post-call”.  Though exhausted, I was happy as it was my first experience at being a full-fledged doctor.

In 1997, I made a major ‘tactical’ move to join the military service.  The decision to sign on in the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) was not an easy one.  It took me a lot of ‘courage’ and deliberation to detour from ‘mainstream’ doctoring to a military profession.  However, I have always subscribed to the belief of doing something different and to venture out of my comfort zone.  I did not want to simply follow the well-trodden path of a typical doctor working in the institution.

My years serving in the Air Force had allowed me to experience many different aspects of doctoring and administrative work that not many would have the opportunity to do so.  I was involved in cloud-seeding missions in Bandung, Indonesia; the “Search-and-Rescue” mission for the tragic SilkAir MI 185 Crash in Palembang, Indonesia; multiple aeromedical evacuation missions, including the SQ006 Incident in Taipei and the ultra-long haul aeromedical evacuation of a Singaporean serviceman from Alaska to Singapore.  Indeed, the highlight of my career in the SAF would be my involvement in leading a medical team to serve with the United Nations Military Hospital in East Timor during the preindependence tumultuous times in 2000.  Ruins, burnt buildings, homeless families, social insecurity and orphans were scenes that I could never forget.  The unforgettable experience there has changed my perspective in life and has reiterated my resolve to serve the community.

I returned to full-time clinical practice in 2003 after serving 9 years with the Singapore Armed Forces.  I have not once regretted this career move as my time served in the Air Force has enabled me to be a better organiser, more proactive, open to changes and adapt to different situations.  I went on to complete my advanced specialist training in Ophthalmology in 2005 and subsequently a one year fellowship in Pediatric Ophthalmology. Ironically, I used to have an aversion to meeting and managing pediatric ophthalmic patients during my basic specialist training as I found it very difficult to communicate and examine them.  However, I took up the challenge to overcome this fear and was rewarded with the confidence and special touch to deal with young children.  To gain their trust and subsequently see them get well gives me a lot of personal satisfaction. Although young children never voice their gratitude or appreciation, the smiles on their faces are enough encouragement to spur me on.

My journey through “Life in Medicine” has been very enriching and has allowed me to learn many new things.  One important lesson I gained is that change is inevitable and we should not shy away from it.   In the words of John F. Kennedy:

“Change is the law of life, and those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future”.

To me, change is not something to be feared.  Rather it is something we should welcome.  The ability to embrace change with confidence and hope is my formula and it has put me in good stead to handle any eventualities and uncertainties in the future.