For paediatrician Assoc Prof Oh Jean Yin, her work in the hospital and the community is driven by compassion and a desire to shape a better world for young people.

Associate Professor Oh Jean Yin’s journey in paediatrics, specialising in Adolescent Medicine, was sparked off more than two decades ago when she attended the Adolescent Health Conference in Melbourne, Australia. Then a registrar, Assoc Prof Oh was inspired by paediatricians and multidisciplinary staff she met. “I had attended medical conferences before, but the amount of passion and sense of advocacy for youth really resonated with me.”

At the conference, Assoc Prof Oh observed an initiative where medical students practised communication skills by role-playing with adolescent drama students. “The skills learnt were obvious to the medical students, but what was amazing were the benefits to the adolescent drama students, notably the empowerment and activation that the young person could take away from that interaction and how it could potentially increase their own health literacy,” recalled Assoc Prof Oh.

Inspired by that pivotal scene to pursue Adolescent Medicine, Assoc Prof Oh is now Senior Consultant in the Adolescent Medicine Service and Head of Department of Paediatrics at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH). She and her team are dedicated to addressing adolescent health issues while paving a way forward to improve the physical, psychological, emotional and social health and well-being of adolescents. The patients she sees may be adolescents with obesity, eating disorders or high-risk behaviours. Her team has also tried to incorporate that same medical student teaching session locally, with the same purpose to improve communication skills of doctors-in-training with adolescents and to empower our youth in Singapore.

This line of work was exceptionally introspective for Assoc Prof Oh during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I strongly believe in showing compassion and the positive effects of human connections,” she said. “Practising in Adolescent Medicine has allowed me to appreciate that secure attachments and strong relationships are crucial aspects, especially in times of crisis and, in our context, in illness and disease.”

Beyond medical interventions, the development of a connection is something significant in Assoc Prof Oh’s practice. “Some of our patients have been through really tough situations and tragedies, ranging from adverse childhood experiences to mental health struggles. Yet they have remained resilient and are giving back to their communities,” she shared. “I would like to believe that my team — whether it’s the paediatrician, nurse, psychologist or medical social worker — has stayed the course and been that trusted adult for them.”

Assoc Prof Oh has ventured beyond the hospital and into the community in the last decade. Her contributions to child and youth advocacy work caters particularly to those with adverse childhood experiences. “There has been more research around these experiences that shows that toxic stress — especially from physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect — can significantly impact a child’s brain development and long-term physical health,” she explained. As such, she and her peers also collaborate with government agencies and child abuse protection teams. This involves implementing safe interventions and managing cases to improve outcomes for these children and their families.

Assoc Prof Oh’s sense of advocacy stems from a childhood filled with examples of family members displaying the spirit of giving back. “I used to follow my mother to a centre for the blind, where they created books in Braille. She would read to a blind volunteer, who would type in Braille using special typewriters,” she recounted. In secondary school, Assoc Prof Oh joined a student club that had community service as one of its aims, and spent time tutoring beneficiaries from a children’s home. “These are two vivid memories that have stuck with me,” she shared. “The spirit of volunteering and its activities may not be for everyone and we must respect that without judgement. Nobody is lesser for that. It’s good for those who can, for it’s only when your own cup is full that you can do so,” added Assoc Prof Oh, who enjoys family time and watching movies with her husband and two children outside of her professional and project commitments.

Yet, her trajectory through Adolescent Medicine and consistent engagement in the child protection community reflects her identity as well. “I think paediatricians are naturally strong advocates,” said Assoc Prof Oh. “We want to protect children from suffering and harm, speak up for people who have no voice and make the world we live in a better one for our children.”

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