​Prof Fong Kok Yong shares some of his life lessons and what keeps him going.


Prof Fong passed the CMB baton to Associate Professor Ruban Poopalalingam on 1 Nov 2019.

A cosy staff appreciation event was held recently at Deck on 9. He received many gifts such as football team figurines of senior management from Finance and a huge coke bottle containing flowers and lovely notes from Nursing.

Humble, wise and having a witty sense of humour – these are the common words used to describe Professor Fong Kok Yong at various mini gatherings to thank him for his seven years of service as Chairman, Medical Board. LighterNotes caught up with Prof Fong and here are three life lessons that we can glean from him!

“Challenge the norm and be sympathetic towards those who are different”

Having four children was not encouraged during my time. I was really thankful that my wife took most of the burden during that time. She stopped work to care for them. It was a challenging time but it can be overcome. So I always remind myself that when we become supervisors, we can always be a bit more sympathetic towards our staff and their family situation.

“Nothing gets in the way if you are truly interested and passionate”

Doing research during my time was also not easy. Before the start of the 1990s, there were no great facilities that we have today. When I was doing my research then, I often had to drive down on Friday late afternoon to use a laboratory in SGH (because I worked in another hospital). The keys were usually kept by someone so I had to make arrangements to get the keys so I could access the labs on weekends, then make sure that I could return the keys very early in the morning on Monday. It was a stressful arrangement but it made me more disciplined. It was also a test on whether I had the patience and aptitude for research. I remember I was locked out once and couldn’t use the equipment…all because I had taken the wrong keys! The lesson here is if you have passion, nothing can stop you, you can pursue whatever you like.

“Always find the silver lining in every difficult situation”

My biggest challenge during my time as CMB was the Hepatitis C incident in Oct 2015. It wasn’t something that we had faced before. There were many unknowns. We harmed our patients unintentionally. The only saving grace was that there was a new drug that could be used to treat our patients so the harm was mitigated. I was very worried for our staff as they were under tremendous stress. They felt very bad as they had unintentionally harmed their patients; there was some degree of guilt, compounded by the incessant bad publicity. This could potentially affect their whole lives or even their careers.

But in all dark situations, there are always pockets of light. We saw staff working together as one to overcome the difficulties. On a personal level, I was touched by many of our staff – they gave us essence of chicken, baked bread, and bought small gifts and cards to show appreciation. We were encouraged by this as we saw that our relationship with staff was strong and, hence, we were sure that we could pull through the crisis.

Prof Fong also shared a lesson a patient taught him which keeps him going till today.

I was fortunate to receive such a lesson early in my career. In the 1980s, when I was a Medical Officer running an outpatient clinic at SGH, I remember an old woman who waited several hours for me to finish the clinic. It was Chinese New Year and she had walked from Chinatown to SGH to give me two mandarin oranges to thank me for looking after her. That simple gesture encapsulates the meaning of all we do. This memory has carried me through my career, keeping me rooted during the ‘ups,’ picking me up during the ‘downs’ and constantly reminding me of the difference that healthcare professionals make in our patients’ lives. That simple gesture illustrates that healthcare is so human in nature.

We love mail! Drop us a note at lighternotes@sgh.com.sg to tell us what you like or didn’t like about this story, and what you would like to see more of in LighterNotes.