Monday, 3 August 2015

{Interview #5} Professor Tan Huay Cheem - Cardiologist

Professor Tan Huay Cheem, 52, is Senior Consultant at the department of Cardiology at National University Hospital (NUH). He is also Director of National University Heart Centre, Singapore (NUHCS), and Professor of Medicine at Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, NUS. He is a visiting professor to several hospitals in China and is an invited speaker to many international cardiology meetings. He is married to a locum G.P., who spends much of her time looking after their 11 year old daughter.

This initiative is part of our 101 Paths to Success series of interviews to gain insight into how successful people came to do what they are doing, and enlighten parents that there is a vast array of occupations for our children to discover. Hopefully it might spark an interest in our children and youths to start their journey of discerning their life's path.

Your qualifications

Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery MBBS (Singapore)
Master of Medicine (Internal Medicine)
Membership of Royal College of Physician (MRCP) United Kingdom
Fellowship of American College of Cardiology (FACC)

Describe your job

I am a cardiologist, a heart specialist. Specifically, I am an interventional cardiologist who specialises in ‘unblocking’ patients’ ‘blocked heart arteries’ (coronary artery disease) from excessive cholesterol and fat deposits.

I do so by inserting a balloon through the wrist or groin artery to access the heart (coronary) arteries. I would first dilate the arteries (which fractures and pushes the deposits against the side of the wall) with a balloon catheter and then implant a stent (which is either a metallic or ‘plastic’ scaffold) to prop the artery open. That way, it allows for restoration of blood flow to the heart which can relieve patient’s symptom (called angina pectoris) and prevent heart attack. The whole procedure is called percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI).

PCI is a generally safe procedure with procedural complication rates of less than 2%. It can be really life-saving in patients with acute heart attacks. In these patients, their arteries are completely ‘choked off’ with no blood flow to the heart muscles by blood clot and fat deposuts; and by performing this procedure, the whole process of heart attack can be aborted.

This job requires me to be on duty some days where I have to be on standby for a whole 24 hours to be activated whenever a patient is admitted with heart attack. This can be very tiring especially when there are many heart attack patients who are admitted on the same day; or when they come in the middle of the night which deprives you of your sleep. In choosing this profession, I have acknowledged that this will have to be my lifestyle. My wife and family accepts it.

How did you find your passion/ area of interest?

I have always wanted to be a doctor since young. I still remember writing about being one as a young primary school student. I must have been inspired by the doctors who cured me of my illnesses when I was young. These doctors had left an indelible impression on me. To me, the medical profession is a noble and respectable one. Having become a doctor, I realise that respect from our patients has to be earned and not demanded. It is my wish that all doctors will continue to place the interest of their patients before their own, and not be influenced by extraneous factors such as financial gains or others.  

I have always thought that I would be an Obstetrician & Gynaecologist. This is because I topped the subject in my class. However something happened in my life that changed my initial plan. My mother, who was very close to me, had sudden death from a heart attack when I was serving my National Service as a medical officer. I found her collapsed in the bathroom on my return one day and started performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on her till the ambulance arrived. She did not make it and died shortly after.

It was a shocking experience for me and it changed my life completely. My mother was only 55 when she passed away. She was simply too young to have died! I then decided that I would take up Cardiology, and specifically interventional cardiology, so that I can make a difference to heart attack patients in future. Although I could not save my own mother, I hope to be able to save someone else’s parent or spouse. I found myself to have a knack for the field and made sure that I was well-trained in it to serve my calling. Having performed nearly 10,000 cardiac  procedures both locally and overseas over the last 20 years, I believe I have made an impact to many people’s lives.

I have been working in NUH since my graduation 28 years ago. I still have many long term patients whom I had previously operated on, under my care. While I am definitely not the richest doctor around, I am very wealthy with the showers of gratitude and thanks which many of my patients bestow on me. That, to me, is the best gift.

Professor Tan Huay Cheem
Which aspect of your job gives you the most satisfaction?

My job as an academic cardiologist encompasses 4 main areas of work, namely clinical service, teaching, research and administration. I derive tremendous satisfaction in all these areas.

To be able to save someone’s life at the time when he or she needed you most gives me the most gratification. To be able to teach and train someone so well that he can treat his own patients competently is another satisfaction. To create new knowledge and to come out with new therapies to treat patients better is what I try to do in my research. And finally as a leader in the public institution, I help develop clinical programmes, manpower planning and participate in formulating public health policies, all of which are meaningful to me. What keeps me in the public sector, instead of going into private practice, is that I can be a member of Singapore's public healthcare system which provides quality, accessible and cost effective care to the people of my country, regardless of their background.    

What does success mean to you?

I like the definition of success by American poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“To find the best in others; to give of oneself; to leave the world a bit better; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived- this is to have succeeded”

I wish to be a blessing to someone every day, be it big or small. That is my definition of success. My work gives me the privilege to literally do that every day!

I owe all that I have to God. I hope to be an Ambassador for Christ, to testify of His wondrous works through my work and life.

Are you involved in any charity work?

I volunteer my time with Singapore Heart Foundation, a voluntary welfare organization (VWO) that aims to promote heart health, prevent and reduce disability and death due to cardiovascular diseases and stroke among the public. I am the Secretary General for the organization and am actively involved in promoting health in schools and the community through programmes such as obesity management, exercise for life, Go Red For Women, and cardiac rehabilitation. We also raise funds to support needy patients for their expensive treatment in hospitals.

One advice to parents

Be a good role model to your child for much of what he/she becomes later in life is shaped by you.

One advice to teens

As you pursue your dreams in life, do not forget that much of what you have is owed to your parents and the society. Learn to count your blessings and be grateful.

To be a cardiologist, it takes someone who is….. fully committed to the job with passion. Life-long continual learning is a prerequisite. You must also have three core values: empathy, compassion and effective communication skills. Take care of your patient like you would take care of your loved ones and do not allow financial gains to influence your judgement and management.
 


{Interviews} 101 Paths to Success

#1 - Dr Karen Crasta Scientist Associate Prof at the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine

#2 - Jeremiah Choy Creative Director Sing50 Mega concert at the National Stadium

#3 - Elaine Yeo Musician Singapore Symphony Orchestra

#4 - Chong Ee Jay Cyber Wellness Educator TOUCH Cyber Wellness



~ www.mummyweeblog.com - a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

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