Professor Ivy Ng, SingHealth Group CEO

 Professor Ivy Ng served as CEO of KKH from 2004-2012 and was responsible for establishing the hospital as a regional leader in obstetrics, gynaecology, paediatrics and neonatology. She was appointed the Deputy Group CEO of SingHealth from 2008 to 2012 and assumed the role of SingHealth Group CEO in January 2012. A paediatric geneticist by training, Prof Ng is also an adjunct professor at Duke-NUS Medical School Singapore and a clinical professor at NUS.   Why did you choose to specialise in paediatrics and genetics?  “Let's take a step back to why I wanted to do Medicine. My dad used to tell me, “You only have one life, use it to help other people”. That’s why I did Medicine. When I first started, it didn't seem so clear which speciality to go for. I found myself enjoying paediatrics the most and decided when I was a house officer. During my housemanship, I did postings at paediatrics and orthopaedics etc and I totally enjoyed the paediatric posting because it was such a happy ward. Of course, the difficult part was doing procedures on kids. That was difficult more because the baby would be crying, the parents would be crying, the grandparents would be upset.  I would advise medical students to choose what they enjoy most and what they’re most passionate about. If you are in your 1st and 2nd year, you don't have to worry yet – focus on passing your exams!   How was studying medicine like in the past?  “We had real cadavers and did our own dissection. We studied on this campus (SGH); the lecture theatres were in the College of Medicine building and behind that was the anatomy building. There used to be a canteen called Ah Leng’s and a football field at the area where Duke-NUS is. It was really good fun. In the past, the paediatrics department was at Mistri Wing, which is the building right next to the Bowyer Block where the medical wards were located. Mistri Wing used to house two paediatric wards for sick children and later NHCS, and it is now home to the Diabetes and Metabolism Centre. It was very convenient and we would visit the wards very frequently.”   Fun fact:  KE (King Edward) Hall used to be located at the exact same spot as Duke-NUS. Bowyer Block is the only heritage building still standing on the SGH Campus.   In terms of student life, how was it back then?  “We would start at 8am in the morning and end the day around 5pm. The difference between then and now was that we worked 5 and half days every week except on public holidays. We usually return to the hostels and relax, play games or go to Ah Leng’s canteen to have a drink after 5pm. I don't think it’s very different from what you do now except maybe we weren't so distracted by hand phones and ipads.

Professor Ivy Ng served as CEO of KKH from 2004-2012 and was responsible for establishing the hospital as a regional leader in obstetrics, gynaecology, paediatrics and neonatology. She was appointed the Deputy Group CEO of SingHealth from 2008 to 2012 and assumed the role of SingHealth Group CEO in January 2012. A paediatric geneticist by training, Prof Ng is also an adjunct professor at Duke-NUS Medical School Singapore and a clinical professor at NUS.

Why did you choose to specialise in paediatrics and genetics?
“Let's take a step back to why I wanted to do Medicine. My dad used to tell me, “You only have one life, use it to help other people”. That’s why I did Medicine. When I first started, it didn't seem so clear which speciality to go for. I found myself enjoying paediatrics the most and decided when I was a house officer. During my housemanship, I did postings at paediatrics and orthopaedics etc and I totally enjoyed the paediatric posting because it was such a happy ward. Of course, the difficult part was doing procedures on kids. That was difficult more because the baby would be crying, the parents would be crying, the grandparents would be upset.

I would advise medical students to choose what they enjoy most and what they’re most passionate about. If you are in your 1st and 2nd year, you don't have to worry yet – focus on passing your exams!

How was studying medicine like in the past?
“We had real cadavers and did our own dissection. We studied on this campus (SGH); the lecture theatres were in the College of Medicine building and behind that was the anatomy building. There used to be a canteen called Ah Leng’s and a football field at the area where Duke-NUS is. It was really good fun. In the past, the paediatrics department was at Mistri Wing, which is the building right next to the Bowyer Block where the medical wards were located. Mistri Wing used to house two paediatric wards for sick children and later NHCS, and it is now home to the Diabetes and Metabolism Centre. It was very convenient and we would visit the wards very frequently.”

Fun fact: KE (King Edward) Hall used to be located at the exact same spot as Duke-NUS. Bowyer Block is the only heritage building still standing on the SGH Campus.

In terms of student life, how was it back then?
“We would start at 8am in the morning and end the day around 5pm. The difference between then and now was that we worked 5 and half days every week except on public holidays. We usually return to the hostels and relax, play games or go to Ah Leng’s canteen to have a drink after 5pm. I don't think it’s very different from what you do now except maybe we weren't so distracted by hand phones and ipads.

  What do you think is the most pressing issue facing the healthcare sector today?  “There are many challenges but one of the most pressing issues is our fast-ageing population and increased burden of chronic diseases. By 2030, 1 in 4 Singaporeans will be aged above 65. We are also faced with a shrinking workforce. By 2030, for every citizen leaving the workforce, we have only about 0.7 who is entering the workforce. Another challenge is increasing patient expectations. With healthcare information becoming more accessible, patients come to us with expectations of the care that they receive.”   In your opinion what are the pressing issues women face in the healthcare profession?  “I think most challenges in the healthcare profession are faced by both men and women. The added difficulty for a woman can come after she starts a family. For example, when a female doctor starts a family in her late 20s or 30s, it can be pressurising initially as she tries to balance family commitments and career progression in Medicine. I think it’s critical to strike a balance during that period. My advice is to be unafraid to seek help from parents and relatives, and to have a support network. At the same time, continue to keep yourself engaged with work because when your kids grow up, you will have more time to refocus on your career.”   How is it like being in an administrative role, on top of being a physician?  “Frankly, it wasn’t something that I had expected. Life kind of took its own turns. If I was told when I was your age that I would be doing what I’m doing now, I would have said “No way, forget it!” *laughs*. For me, it was about living life step by step and whatever came my way that I felt I needed to do, I would just do my best. There’s really no need to think too far ahead.  After I specialised in paediatrics and genetics, I was asked to head the genetics unit. We set up the first DNA lab here and also the thalassemia registry. These were more administrative than clinical work, but it was critical to the department because it allowed for definitive diagnosis and genetic screening. That was my first exposure to non-direct clinical work and I started questioning, how else can we better serve our patients.  When leadership appointments are offered to me, I see it as a way to extend my reach as a doctor to touch the lives of more patients, beyond the 50 to 60 patients I see in the clinic every day. That is my driving force and motivation to take up leadership positions. Whether you’re a clinician or clinician leader, I think it’s a role that you grow into. Regardless of what role you take on, the focus should always be on the patients.”   How do you think doctors in the past differ from the doctors who are graduating now?  I don't think they are very much different. The circumstances that we work in are different but the work we do is essentially the same. I think doctors are generally very committed and many do Medicine because it's a calling and they really want to help people.  For instance, when our doctors go on overseas humanitarian trips, everything is back to the bare basics because there’s no EMR to refer to, you can’t order a CT scan. You need to rely on clinical skills. It doesn’t matter if you are a young or senior doctor and you really get to see the younger doctors step up when they are put in such challenging environments.

What do you think is the most pressing issue facing the healthcare sector today?
“There are many challenges but one of the most pressing issues is our fast-ageing population and increased burden of chronic diseases. By 2030, 1 in 4 Singaporeans will be aged above 65. We are also faced with a shrinking workforce. By 2030, for every citizen leaving the workforce, we have only about 0.7 who is entering the workforce. Another challenge is increasing patient expectations. With healthcare information becoming more accessible, patients come to us with expectations of the care that they receive.”

In your opinion what are the pressing issues women face in the healthcare profession?
“I think most challenges in the healthcare profession are faced by both men and women. The added difficulty for a woman can come after she starts a family. For example, when a female doctor starts a family in her late 20s or 30s, it can be pressurising initially as she tries to balance family commitments and career progression in Medicine. I think it’s critical to strike a balance during that period. My advice is to be unafraid to seek help from parents and relatives, and to have a support network. At the same time, continue to keep yourself engaged with work because when your kids grow up, you will have more time to refocus on your career.”

How is it like being in an administrative role, on top of being a physician?
“Frankly, it wasn’t something that I had expected. Life kind of took its own turns. If I was told when I was your age that I would be doing what I’m doing now, I would have said “No way, forget it!” *laughs*. For me, it was about living life step by step and whatever came my way that I felt I needed to do, I would just do my best. There’s really no need to think too far ahead.

After I specialised in paediatrics and genetics, I was asked to head the genetics unit. We set up the first DNA lab here and also the thalassemia registry. These were more administrative than clinical work, but it was critical to the department because it allowed for definitive diagnosis and genetic screening. That was my first exposure to non-direct clinical work and I started questioning, how else can we better serve our patients.

When leadership appointments are offered to me, I see it as a way to extend my reach as a doctor to touch the lives of more patients, beyond the 50 to 60 patients I see in the clinic every day. That is my driving force and motivation to take up leadership positions. Whether you’re a clinician or clinician leader, I think it’s a role that you grow into. Regardless of what role you take on, the focus should always be on the patients.”

How do you think doctors in the past differ from the doctors who are graduating now?
I don't think they are very much different. The circumstances that we work in are different but the work we do is essentially the same. I think doctors are generally very committed and many do Medicine because it's a calling and they really want to help people.

For instance, when our doctors go on overseas humanitarian trips, everything is back to the bare basics because there’s no EMR to refer to, you can’t order a CT scan. You need to rely on clinical skills. It doesn’t matter if you are a young or senior doctor and you really get to see the younger doctors step up when they are put in such challenging environments.

  What was your proudest achievement to date?  “My four children. Having a family is the most important achievement to me.” Are any of your children studying medicine? “Yes, my youngest one is studying Medicine in Singapore."   What do you like to do in your leisure time?  “I mostly spend time with my family. Weekends are all about grocery shopping and enjoying family meals.”   Can you tell us a fun fact about yourself that you think most people won’t know?   “I love chips, potato chips. I keep them in my car all the time.”   How about the top 3 things in your bucket list?   “I don’t have a bucket list. Whatever I think I need to do, I just do it!”   If you didn’t study medicine what occupation would you be in?   “I would have liked to do physiotherapy or medical social work.”   What is your most cherished memory from your schooling days?   “There are so many of them so I’ll just limit myself to medical school. It was challenging and at the same very rewarding because there was so much to learn. The whole experience really stretches you. The most acute memory I have is of the huge dissection hall, the smell of formalin and the actual dissection we had to do. There were 30 cadavers in the hall and you would dissect the cadaver with 4 other classmates.”   How do you ensure a healthy work-life balance for yourself?   “Family always comes first for me and I try to make decisions based on that. At work, it helps to constantly ask yourself: ‘What adds value?’ and ‘What shouldn't I waste my time on?’ You need to be very clear on what you want to do with your life and what you’re passionate about. I would say keep your focus on your family, people you love, and those you work with. When you have a better sense of purpose, it’ll help you prioritise better.”

What was your proudest achievement to date?
“My four children. Having a family is the most important achievement to me.” Are any of your children studying medicine? “Yes, my youngest one is studying Medicine in Singapore."

What do you like to do in your leisure time?
“I mostly spend time with my family. Weekends are all about grocery shopping and enjoying family meals.”

Can you tell us a fun fact about yourself that you think most people won’t know?
“I love chips, potato chips. I keep them in my car all the time.”

How about the top 3 things in your bucket list?
“I don’t have a bucket list. Whatever I think I need to do, I just do it!”

If you didn’t study medicine what occupation would you be in?
“I would have liked to do physiotherapy or medical social work.”

What is your most cherished memory from your schooling days?
“There are so many of them so I’ll just limit myself to medical school. It was challenging and at the same very rewarding because there was so much to learn. The whole experience really stretches you. The most acute memory I have is of the huge dissection hall, the smell of formalin and the actual dissection we had to do. There were 30 cadavers in the hall and you would dissect the cadaver with 4 other classmates.”

How do you ensure a healthy work-life balance for yourself?
“Family always comes first for me and I try to make decisions based on that. At work, it helps to constantly ask yourself: ‘What adds value?’ and ‘What shouldn't I waste my time on?’ You need to be very clear on what you want to do with your life and what you’re passionate about. I would say keep your focus on your family, people you love, and those you work with. When you have a better sense of purpose, it’ll help you prioritise better.”