As the recipient of the Foo Keong Tatt Professorship in Urology, Distinguished Professor Christopher Cheng wants to nurture the next generation of doctors to be future ready yet full of heart for their patients. 

Newly appointed Distinguished Professor Christopher Cheng has serendipity to thank for his remarkable career trajectory. From a urology specialist to hospital administrator to trailblazer in the use of robots in Uro-Oncology and Minimally Invasive Surgery, he has now assumed an academic leadership role that distils his lifetime of rich clinical knowledge and experience.

Despite reaching the highest academic accolade bestowed upon a faculty, the origin of his distinguished career was simple. It was his love for biology that started him down the path of practising medicine. "I have always been fascinated by the living things I see under the microscope, where you can literally see life pulsating in front of you."

Making a difference to Singapore's healthcare

Professor Cheng's move to administrative leadership was equally serendipitous. It started with angst when he marched into the CIO's office in frustration, after wrestling with the archaic computer system. Instead, he was offered the chance to make a difference. "That's how I ended up as the Chairman of Electronic Medical Records (EMR) at SingHealth for 14 years."

Because of his role as Chairman of EMR, he became part of a team of domain experts tasked to write a White Paper on Medical Excellence for the government. "We narrowed down to two key areas: Strengthening primary care and developing mini-clusters, where hospitals are integrated with primary and step-down care services."

When Sengkang General Hospital (SKH) was started to serve the fast-growing residential population of Sengkang and Punggol, he was asked to head the planning team there because of his familiarity with healthcare policies. "Even though I had little experience, building a hospital was a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It was a chance to put the White Paper into action, of doing innovation at scale." He stayed on at SKH as Chief Executive Officer until 2021, stepping down after the hospital was officially opened in 2019.
Breaking new medical ground

That same pioneering spirit also saw Professor Cheng and some of his surgical colleagues venture into the brave new world of keyhole surgery in the 1990s. "We could clearly see its benefits. Unlike traditional open surgery which may leave long-lasting collateral damage to the surrounding tissues and muscles, laparoscopic instruments allow you to reach organs deep in the body in a minimally invasive manner."

They convinced the Ministry of Health to acquire Asia's first surgical robot in 2002. Today, almost every hospital offers robotic surgery and has its own robot.

Harnessing the academic & the clinical for better patient care

This willingness to push the parameters of medical science in service of patients is a testament to Professor Cheng's ability to harness the collective strengths of clinical care, education and research to improve healthcare and patient outcomes. It also exemplifies the purpose and spirit of the Foo Keong Tatt Professorship – to achieve the peaks of excellence in research, education, innovation, and practice, and by doing so, strengthening Singapore's position as a thought leader in Urology globally.

With his conferment of the Distinguished Professorship, Professor Cheng hopes to inspire young doctors to scale the same peaks of excellence.

Despite his many achievements, Professor Cheng is unequivocal about every doctor's mandate. "You need to know the patient as a whole person and balance the state-of-the-art with humanity. It's not about how much time you have for him but how much heart. When you have a hesitant patient, sometimes that deep connection might be enough to persuade him."

Reproduced with permission from Finding the Opportunity in Every Challenge (