Whether it is speaking in Cantonese or broken Hokkien to a neighbourhood aunty or in Queen’s English to a retired judge, Dr Wong Wei Teen is in her element when treating patients at SingHealth Polyclinics (SHP) – Outram. She enjoys the deep connection she has with them.

“It’s what drives me to work every day. What keeps me going is knowing I can nudge behaviour changes and make patients think a lot more about their health,” she said.

As Clinic Director of the polyclinic, she now spends less time with patients, and this makes her value the encounters even more. She runs an occasional general clinic and the Family Physician Clinic for more complex cases once or twice a week.

“Patients in the Family Physician Clinic have multiple illnesses. Some have psychosocial or mental health issues. A few patients may visit even though they don’t have physical problems; they just need to talk to someone,” said Dr Wong.

Dr Wong joined SHP in 2011 and has spent the past 10 years serving patients from all walks of life. At 34, she is one of the youngest leaders in SHP.

Open door policy

With more than 100 staff to oversee, Dr Wong sees the importance of helping people understand each other’s expectations, and maintaining workplace camaraderie and mutual respect.

“Directorship doesn’t mean leading the processes but the people,” she said. “All our staff know that they are not just followers but have important, pivotal roles in the clinic. If each area functions well, we can give the best to patients and to each other.”

She is particularly proud of her “open door culture”.

Dr Wong explained, “As a leader, you have to be approachable. Whether the problem is a conflict at work or struggles in life — even if the staff don’t directly report to you — you may have to step in to resolve it, or at the very least understand the issue.”

Her caring nature got her the “Mother of the Clinic” award during a prize presentation for staff at the polyclinic.

“Even the Nurse Manager, who is in her 50s, says the staff are all my children. So, I have 100 children here!” said Dr Wong, who is single, but believes she has had this maternal instinct since young.

“When I was in Primary 2, an older student vomited next to me. I quickly took her to the toilet and even helped wash her uniform. The teacher was surprised by my actions and commented that I was behaving like a mother,” said Dr Wong with a laugh.

Serving beyond borders

That same empathy led her to volunteer for an overseas mission trip after her final year in medical school. But her interest was truly piqued when she went to far-flung villages in Mongolia in 2012.

“With no access to healthcare, people there learned to improvise. I saw how they modified a plastic chair to become a wheelchair for moving a patient around. It’s not always about good doctors or state-of-the-art equipment. After that trip, I made up my mind to go on mission trips at least three or four times a year,” Dr Wong said.

With every trip, it dawned on her that medical missions cannot only be about dishing out pills, and that people needed much more. As a result, she started doing livelihood projects, which included donating pump boats for fishing, so that the locals could earn their own livelihood.

Every mission is self-funded and relies significantly on donations. Dr Wong also uses her annual leave for these trips.

Most of her mission trips are now to the Philippines. The remote villages there are usually rebel-infested and require a sampan ride in a river full of parasites to get to, which explains why the team is always accompanied by armed military personnel.

Despite safety concerns, Dr Wong is not about to throw in the towel.

“There are people out there who really need help. Why restrict my skills and services to a community that I can serve with ease? I strongly believe that we cannot look out for ourselves all the time, and forget that other people are just as human as we are,” she said.