Senior Resident Alex Tan may be a year and a half away from becoming a cardiologist but he revealed that medicine would never have been on the cards had he had his way – he once harboured thoughts of joining the navy.

The Inspiring Resident-Educator Award winner under the Residency in SingHealth Excellence (RiSE) Awards 2019 shared that what might seem to be an insignificant moment of sharing may actually be an inspiring nugget of wisdom to another. Wise words indeed.

The newly-crowned father of twins shares more moments of eureka with us.

The lines that piqued his interest

When I was still a medical student, the lines on the ECGs (Electrocardiograms) always fascinated me. After my first attachment at NHCS in 2008 with now Asst Prof Lee Chung Yin, a senior and mentor whom I look up greatly to, my interest in cardiology intensified. So perhaps I can put it this way – some of us are fortunate to do the things we love while others learn to love the things we do – medicine may not have been my childhood ambition, but it has now become my passion and a driving force in my life.

Rewarding moments amidst the chaos

A typical day starts with ward rounds at 7.30am followed by clinic, lab and teaching sessions. Throw in times where patient volume is high whilst manpower runs thin, so yes, it is no doubt stressful but there are heartening moments to remind me why I am where I am.

Five years ago when I was a medical officer, I encountered a female patient who had post-partum cardiomyopathy. We resuscitated her for an hour in the intensive care unit and subsequently put her on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). Thankfully, she survived the ordeal. Two years later when I was at the heart failure clinic, I saw the same patient again. She had been implanted with a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) and was doing well. It was a truly rewarding moment for me.

What wearing the hat of an educator means

If I may offer a different perspective on education and the learning journey – I feel that it isn’t about a single encounter but a lifelong journey. Seniors or juniors alike, we are all educators every day and at every stage of our lives. I believe that even as I am learning to become a qualified specialist one day, I need to nurture the juniors who are our next generation of medical professionals.

Something I find useful is that when I impart a skill or knowledge, or instil an attitude in the juniors, it actually helps me revisit seemingly simple thought processes which I have otherwise habitually skipped (albeit guiltily) over the years!

People and words that had an impact

‘Treat people the way you want to be treated’ – This were the words Assoc Prof Lim Soo Teik said to me when I was embroiled in a sticky interpersonal issue. It was my first medical officer posting in 2013 and Assoc Prof Lim was the head of Cardiology then. It left a lasting impression because of the way he approached the matter. 

Another mentor who left a mark is Assoc Prof Simon Ong from National Cancer Centre Singapore whom I did a medical oncology elective with in 2007. His words ‘One degree change’ struck a chord. He explained to me that when we teach, mentor and inspire, it is not about immediate results. If we can change someone’s attitude or perspective by even one degree, we will be able to see an impact even if it is a long way down the line.

The days may be a flurry of clinical work and teachings, and the nights may be extra long now with his newborns, Dr Alex Tan looks ahead to start and live each day with positivity and energy. He is especially thankful for a supportive spouse and a tight knitted batch of senior residents who constantly remind him that he is not alone in this long journey called medical education.