In this second part, we explored Prof Wong’s life as a medical student as well as some personal thoughts on the younger generation of doctors.
What activities were you involved in?
Debating, I use to debate for KE hall. Rugby, that was for Medical Faculty. Rag & Flag I was involved a lot. That would probably be the three official areas.
How was your experience as Honorary General Secretary of the Medical Society?
The Medsoc was (doing) a fraction of what it is currently doing right now. There was a canteen which everyone used to gravitate towards called Ah Ling’s Canteen. Next to Ah Ling’s canteen was a small building in which the Medsoc has one room in that building. Because the medsoc room was next to the football field, I think that’s why many people heard about the medsoc but meetings were short because most of the time we would end up on the football field. When I was in medsoc, as the Honorary Secretary General, I am embarrassed to say we probably didn’t do anything memorable. The medsoc now is very different than what the medsoc used to be before. And I think now you have several flagship programs going, you have the Neighbourhood Health Sceening, which to me, is really transformational. It would be useful to have a 10th anniversary because it is probably one of the most dramatic programs that transformed the way people think about healthcare in Singapore.
How do you think doctors in the past differ from the younger generations of doctors?
I belong to a generation where you look at some of my teachers who are still teachers. Prof Lim Pin he was head of medicine when I was a medical student. He was my examiner in the clinical skills foundation and I still keep on reminding him about it because he terrified me. Prof Lim Pin is still working full time, he was head of medicine, then he became vice chancellor of NUS and now he is back as a member of the faculty. Prof Shanmugaratnam, who is DPM Tharman’s father was head of pathology when I was a medical student and Prof Shanmugaratnam worked all the way until he was 94 years old, full time. There is a sense of purpose and a sense of that you really love medicine. I do think that your (younger) generation is incredibly talented and you all are older than your years because you have been exposed to so much. But there are some things that come with time, experience, going through challenges which would help shape you.
I come from a generation where we used to work easily 100 hours (a week). It’s not something I would recommend, but there was a certain dedication that you don’t go home if your patient is not stable. And if you did go home you always make sure that you do everything to hand over to the on call team. That patient was really your patient, you really take ownership of the patient. Ultimately I still think that fundamentals don’t change but I think every generation worries about the next so I’m sure Prof Lim Pin must have been pretty worried about my generation so I hope I haven’t let Prof Lim Pin’s generation down. I’m sure my generation worries about your generation also because ultimately you are going to be the future consultants and leaders of Singapore healthcare.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I think that you need to have discipline, you need to have a sense of purpose. And I think you have to be able to look at yourself in the mirror and be comfortable with what you see. There’s a story going around that the Japanese Samurai carried 3 things with them. Their sword, which they are not meant to draw but when they draw they better know how to use it. To me the sword is your excellence, you know you need to have something which is really going to be truly excellent because your life really depends on it. They also carry salt. The salt is a symbol of purity. I heard that it is also meant to be so you can live off the land because everything taste good with a little bit of salt but apparently it is more for purity. And the third is a mirror. The Japanese Samurai wanted to look in the mirror and reflect upon themselves. So I think being able to reflect is a very important thing to do because if you don’t reflect, you tend to do a lot of things and don’t think of the consequences.