Professor Yeoh Khay Guan, Dean of NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine

  On how NUS Medicine has changed from the time he was a student till now:   “The School is constantly refreshing its curriculum and training in anticipation of healthcare needs and taking advantage of new pedagogies. For example, the establishment of NUS Centre for Biomedical Ethics (CBmE) which organises a longitudinal Health, Ethics, Law and Professionalism (HELP) track integrating professionalism and ethical practice throughout the 5 years of medical school. Since 2008, learning is linked to medical practice in Year 1, in Year 3, learning is enhanced as students are embedded into healthcare teams and given patient care responsibilities under close supervision and in Year 5, students function as student-interns. There are also more interprofessional team training and simulation training.”   As to how doctors in the past differ from newer doctors of the current generation:   “Every generation is a product of their times and therefore distinctive and different from previous generations. I would say current students and graduates are better trained in medical school than in the past because the curriculum, pedagogies and facilities have improved greatly. However, in the past, with a smaller class size, the post-graduation clinical experience and hands-on training was stronger. This affects surgical disciplines more.”   When asked why he decided to pursue this particular specialty that he’s in now:   “As a clinical student, you’ll be shaped a bit by what you see and experience; the type of postings, the type of seniors and consultants in the department. A lot of things go into consideration. I joined gastroenterology in NUH after doing a posting. I think I could have picked several different disciplines but in the end, my decision was based on choosing the team I wanted to work with, the people, atmosphere and department rather than the content of the specialty. I liked the team, the teaching culture and I felt comfortable with the people. I had excellent mentors in the department like Professors Kang Jin Yong, Richard Guan and Ivy Yap, and will always be grateful to them for the training and foundation they gave me.”   Fun fact:  Prof Yeoh enjoys listening to music by Coldplay and Charlie Puth!

On how NUS Medicine has changed from the time he was a student till now:

“The School is constantly refreshing its curriculum and training in anticipation of healthcare needs and taking advantage of new pedagogies. For example, the establishment of NUS Centre for Biomedical Ethics (CBmE) which organises a longitudinal Health, Ethics, Law and Professionalism (HELP) track integrating professionalism and ethical practice throughout the 5 years of medical school. Since 2008, learning is linked to medical practice in Year 1, in Year 3, learning is enhanced as students are embedded into healthcare teams and given patient care responsibilities under close supervision and in Year 5, students function as student-interns. There are also more interprofessional team training and simulation training.”

As to how doctors in the past differ from newer doctors of the current generation:

“Every generation is a product of their times and therefore distinctive and different from previous generations. I would say current students and graduates are better trained in medical school than in the past because the curriculum, pedagogies and facilities have improved greatly. However, in the past, with a smaller class size, the post-graduation clinical experience and hands-on training was stronger. This affects surgical disciplines more.”

When asked why he decided to pursue this particular specialty that he’s in now:

“As a clinical student, you’ll be shaped a bit by what you see and experience; the type of postings, the type of seniors and consultants in the department. A lot of things go into consideration. I joined gastroenterology in NUH after doing a posting. I think I could have picked several different disciplines but in the end, my decision was based on choosing the team I wanted to work with, the people, atmosphere and department rather than the content of the specialty. I liked the team, the teaching culture and I felt comfortable with the people. I had excellent mentors in the department like Professors Kang Jin Yong, Richard Guan and Ivy Yap, and will always be grateful to them for the training and foundation they gave me.”

Fun fact: Prof Yeoh enjoys listening to music by Coldplay and Charlie Puth!

  Why did you choose to become a physician?   “I felt I wanted to contribute in relieving suffering and working with people, so doctoring seemed like a good choice. When I was young, my idea of a doctor was that of a family physician in a clinic looking after people, so it seems I haven’t fulfilled my original intent!”   When did you decide to take up research?   “It all started when I applied to work in NUH, where there is a special conjunction of clinical work, academic teaching and research. When I was a resident, my professors would discuss their work with us and offer opportunities to participate in research projects. Seeing their passion for their work, I tried it and found it fun. After I completed specialty training, there was an opportunity to apply for a position as a university lecturer, which combined clinical work with teaching and research. I found this suited me and I didn’t have to choose between clinical work and research.”   What do you like best and what is the hardest part about your job now?   “I enjoy working with people. In the clinic and hospital, we do our best to look after each patient under our care and to help them get better. In the medical school, I enjoy interacting with the students and to help all of them fulfil their fullest potential. As the Dean, I see my responsibility as helping our faculty to succeed in their roles and collective aspirations as a leading medical school. However, time management is the most difficult aspect. There is always more to do so prioritising time sensitive tasks is critical.”   What is one thing you know now that you wished you’d known when you were a student?   “The confidence that things will be okay, they have a way of working themselves out. Not everything can be planned, and some good things will happen by serendipity. For example, if I had set out to plan my training/ career in advance, I would have chosen based on things I knew, whereas keeping an open mind, I tried a posting in gastroenterology and ended up first as a trainee and ultimately a specialist.”   Is there anyone whom you look up to?   “My dad, who is a very thoughtful person and always concerned for others. At the University, there are many very remarkable people and one of my mentors was the late Professor Chan Heng Leong, who was widely respected as a gentleman and clinician scholar.”   Fun fact:  In secondary school/ JC, Prof Yeoh was in cross-country running and he represented the school in chess. He was also the school magazine editor and President of the Science Society!

Why did you choose to become a physician?

“I felt I wanted to contribute in relieving suffering and working with people, so doctoring seemed like a good choice. When I was young, my idea of a doctor was that of a family physician in a clinic looking after people, so it seems I haven’t fulfilled my original intent!”

When did you decide to take up research?

“It all started when I applied to work in NUH, where there is a special conjunction of clinical work, academic teaching and research. When I was a resident, my professors would discuss their work with us and offer opportunities to participate in research projects. Seeing their passion for their work, I tried it and found it fun. After I completed specialty training, there was an opportunity to apply for a position as a university lecturer, which combined clinical work with teaching and research. I found this suited me and I didn’t have to choose between clinical work and research.”

What do you like best and what is the hardest part about your job now?

“I enjoy working with people. In the clinic and hospital, we do our best to look after each patient under our care and to help them get better. In the medical school, I enjoy interacting with the students and to help all of them fulfil their fullest potential. As the Dean, I see my responsibility as helping our faculty to succeed in their roles and collective aspirations as a leading medical school. However, time management is the most difficult aspect. There is always more to do so prioritising time sensitive tasks is critical.”

What is one thing you know now that you wished you’d known when you were a student?

“The confidence that things will be okay, they have a way of working themselves out. Not everything can be planned, and some good things will happen by serendipity. For example, if I had set out to plan my training/ career in advance, I would have chosen based on things I knew, whereas keeping an open mind, I tried a posting in gastroenterology and ended up first as a trainee and ultimately a specialist.”

Is there anyone whom you look up to?

“My dad, who is a very thoughtful person and always concerned for others. At the University, there are many very remarkable people and one of my mentors was the late Professor Chan Heng Leong, who was widely respected as a gentleman and clinician scholar.”

Fun fact: In secondary school/ JC, Prof Yeoh was in cross-country running and he represented the school in chess. He was also the school magazine editor and President of the Science Society!

  What is one piece of advice you would give to medical students?   “Always keep an open mind. Everyday there will be many occasions and opportunities to learn new things if your mind is open to new ideas. Try to learn some new things everyday.”    What was your secondary/JC school life like in the past and what do you miss most about it?   “My memories of secondary school and JC all revolve around friends and the good times we had together in the classroom, sports, games and CCA.”   Why did you choose that particular school?   “I followed my friends and we ended up as a cohort through primary and secondary school and JC! This was fun as we grew closer by learning and overcoming challenges together.”   What do you do in your free time/what is your favourite hobby?   “Work is quite hectic in the hospital and university so I try to spend free time with my family and kids. When I go home, I get a hug from my kids and everything feels better after that. So the activities tend to be what the kids would enjoy at different ages, sports, games, holidays and family time. I enjoy reading and regret I don’t get as much time as I’d like to read the books I would like to read.”  It is a general concern among aspiring physicians on the lack of work-life balance in this line of work. Having gone through the system and being a physician yourself, what are your opinions on this matter?  “Balance is important in everthing we do, and the balancing point depends considerably on what you set your expectations at. Medicine is a demanding profession due to its long hours and often you are the one standing between a patient and disaster. To be at your best you must have enough rest of course. After that is taken care of, is the balance really one of work versus life? But work is an important part of life and you should enjoy your work and what you are doing, otherwise you must ask yourself whether you chose the right vocation. Or is it work versus personal free time? Yes one has less free time as a doctor compared to being an artist or musician, but we chose this profession, no one asked us to do it. If you don’t want to do this, many other applicants would have been happy to take your place. You should know yourself and make the choices so you can be happy in life.”    Would you want your children to be physicians as well?   “As a parent I want my children to be happy, and to be happy, they must choose for themselves what lives they want to lead.”   What has been your proudest moment as Dean of NUS Medicine?   “The annual commencement ceremony when our students formally graduate each year. As an educator, the greatest gratification comes from seeing our students master their skills and take their place in the world as confident, competent and compassionate doctors.”   What is your guiding philosophy?   “In my personal endeavours, to do what I can, as best as I can. As a teacher and academic leader, to help others grow and develop to their full potential, and to lead the team to fulfill their collective aspirations. We should not flinch from aiming high, failure lies only in not having tried.”

What is one piece of advice you would give to medical students?

“Always keep an open mind. Everyday there will be many occasions and opportunities to learn new things if your mind is open to new ideas. Try to learn some new things everyday.” 

What was your secondary/JC school life like in the past and what do you miss most about it?

“My memories of secondary school and JC all revolve around friends and the good times we had together in the classroom, sports, games and CCA.”

Why did you choose that particular school?

“I followed my friends and we ended up as a cohort through primary and secondary school and JC! This was fun as we grew closer by learning and overcoming challenges together.”

What do you do in your free time/what is your favourite hobby?

“Work is quite hectic in the hospital and university so I try to spend free time with my family and kids. When I go home, I get a hug from my kids and everything feels better after that. So the activities tend to be what the kids would enjoy at different ages, sports, games, holidays and family time. I enjoy reading and regret I don’t get as much time as I’d like to read the books I would like to read.”

It is a general concern among aspiring physicians on the lack of work-life balance in this line of work. Having gone through the system and being a physician yourself, what are your opinions on this matter?

“Balance is important in everthing we do, and the balancing point depends considerably on what you set your expectations at. Medicine is a demanding profession due to its long hours and often you are the one standing between a patient and disaster. To be at your best you must have enough rest of course. After that is taken care of, is the balance really one of work versus life? But work is an important part of life and you should enjoy your work and what you are doing, otherwise you must ask yourself whether you chose the right vocation. Or is it work versus personal free time? Yes one has less free time as a doctor compared to being an artist or musician, but we chose this profession, no one asked us to do it. If you don’t want to do this, many other applicants would have been happy to take your place. You should know yourself and make the choices so you can be happy in life.” 

Would you want your children to be physicians as well?

“As a parent I want my children to be happy, and to be happy, they must choose for themselves what lives they want to lead.”

What has been your proudest moment as Dean of NUS Medicine?

“The annual commencement ceremony when our students formally graduate each year. As an educator, the greatest gratification comes from seeing our students master their skills and take their place in the world as confident, competent and compassionate doctors.”

What is your guiding philosophy?

“In my personal endeavours, to do what I can, as best as I can. As a teacher and academic leader, to help others grow and develop to their full potential, and to lead the team to fulfill their collective aspirations. We should not flinch from aiming high, failure lies only in not having tried.”