​We speak to Clinical Professor Brian Goh to find out more about his rewarding journey as a Clinician Investigator (CIV), and how the CIV Advancement Programme seeks to help doctors better achieve their research objectives with protected time and enhanced recognition.

As one of Singapore’s most experienced and in-demand Hepato-pancreato-biliary (HPB) and Transplant surgeons, it would not be unreasonable to think that Clin Prof Brian Goh’s time would be best spent focusing on clinical and surgical work.

The reality, however, is that in addition to his clinical role as a Senior Consultant at Singapore General Hospital (SGH), he is also heavily involved in research as a CIV. He says that contrary to it being a distraction from his task of saving lives, he finds that involvement in research helps him to go beyond as a clinician by complementing and improving his clinical and surgical skills. 

“Delving into research gives one an opportunity to see what others are doing in the field. For instance, in the past, we used to only do keyhole surgeries for simple surgeries, such as those on the gallbladder. However, it was through research collaborations that I discovered that keyhole surgeries were already being done on more complicated surgeries, such as on the liver and pancreas in other countries.

Ultimately, research helps us to ask new questions, innovate and adopt new technologies in order to improve patient outcomes.”

Expanding on the latter point, he emphasises that whilst pursuing research, it is crucial for doctors to do so with a passion and a purpose – to benefit the patient and not simply just for the sake of checking off a list of professional involvements.

He adds that whilst balancing clinical and research work is challenging, CIVs do have an added advantage over other more lab-based researchers, because they get to put into practice and implement many of their research findings to benefit and help patients.

The Importance of Mentorship

Clin Prof Goh’s experience as a clinician researcher is certainly vast, having started when he was still a first-year medical officer. He notes that back then, the research landscape was a lot less structured with most of the focus being placed on clinical training.

He also shares that before the advent of the internet, the research process was also a lot more drawn out as journals had to be submitted by snail mail. “It may take three to four months to reach there, another few months for it to be reviewed. In the end, it may take up one to two years before the paper gets back to you. By then, it may simply be rejected, and you have to restart all over again.”

He says that it was therefore unsurprising that many doctors were discouraged and tempted to drop out. Perhaps, fortunately, for him, he managed to get his first paper published with some added encouragement from a surgical trainee friend. “Success is actually the greatest motivator. A lot of people get discouraged when their papers don’t get published.”
Nevertheless, he firmly believes that with the right mentors, and a bit of perseverance, everyone will eventually be able to achieve a certain level of success in research.

Perhaps, as a way of showing appreciation for his mentors who inspired him as a junior doctor, Clin Prof Goh allocates a good amount of his time and effort today towards mentoring others.

On his approach towards mentorship, Clin Prof Goh strongly believes in the importance of leading by example. “Juniors need to find mentors who have experience getting their projects published. A lot of the time, juniors will follow the example of their leaders. So, the more you do it, the more others will adopt these research habits as well.”

How Protected Time Can Help Push CIVs to the Next Level

Whilst there is no doubt in Clin Prof Goh’s mind on the importance of research in a clinician’s role, he recognises that there are certainly many challenges and competing interests that can derail a doctor’s research journey.

“Coming from the perspective of a surgeon, I know that some juniors may feel that time spent on research is time taken away from surgical training. They are afraid that their training will be affected and their career progression impacted.”

Apart from surgeons, he notes that many physicians’ time may be stretched by a heavy clinical service load coming from seeing in-patients and running over-listed outpatient clinics. As such, Clin Prof Goh feels that the newly launched CIV Advancement (CIVA) programme, which provides clinicians with 20% of protected research time, is a step in the right direction in allaying these concerns and equipping them with the necessary resources to innovate and develop new technologies in their specific research area.

More than just time, Clin Prof Goh also acknowledges how the prestigious programme will raise the profile of Academic Medicine and showcase our established CIVs and Clinical Leaders, who to date have contributed to more than 5,300 noteworthy publications. “The CIVA Programme is certainly an exciting initiative which will provide clinician researchers the deserved recognition, which will in turn allow them to better build their team and optimise their research platforms. I strongly encourage all my like-minded colleagues to apply for this.”

Find out more about the details of the Clinician Investigator Advancement Programme (CIVA), and learn how you can be a part of it by visiting https://www.singhealthdukenus.com.sg/civa.

This article originally appeared on SingHealth Duke-NUS Joint Office of Academic Medicine's website.