Assoc Prof Nigel Tan receives National Outstanding Clinician Educator Award at the National Medical Excellence Awards 2023

Congratulations to Associate Professor Nigel Tan Choon Kiat, Senior Consultant, Dept of Neurology, National Neuroscience Institute, Group Director Education (Undergraduate), SingHealth and Associate Dean, MD Program, Duke-NUS Medical School on receiving the National Outstanding Clinician Educator Award at the National Medical Excellence Awards 2023!

Assoc Prof Nigel Tan's teaching style can be summed up in two words: 'infectious enthusiasm.' This is a ringing endorsement of his skills and commitment as a clinician educator, especially since neurology is often considered an arcane and complex topic among residents and medical students.

A natural teacher, Assoc Prof Tan's interest in medical education started as a neurology registrar, helping junior colleagues make sense of neurology. Now he teaches medical students from all three medical schools, and residents from SingHealth and National Healthcare Group in the wards and clinics.

"One of the nicest things about being a clinician educator is the ability to see people improve through teaching. The immediate effect is seeing your learners and faculty develop which in turn transforms patient care and improves the lives of our patients," says Assoc Prof Tan.

Learning from the 'Father of Neurology'

Assoc Prof Tan was inspired to pursue teaching by Prof Loong Si Chin, a true giant in the field of Neurology and medical education. Prof Loong was a master in the art and science of Medicine and an effective and enthusiastic teacher who continued his twice weekly sessions with NNI Senior Residents and the Neurology Department at NNI@TTSH Campus until his mid-eighties.  

"I still remember him teaching medical students how to test a neurological function that required the patient to hop. There he was in his seventies, hopping around the room and showing how it should be done. That lesson on how to examine patients really stuck in the students' minds and it's a great example of how he made teaching and learning come alive," shares Prof Tan.

Paying it forward

Dr Tan Yee-Leng, Senior Consultant, Neurology, describes herself as one of Assoc Prof Tan's 'education guinea pigs.'

"In 2009, I was a Neurology Registrar (trainee specialist) and Nigel was one of our teachers. He was very enthusiastic and would try out different teaching styles and techniques to see which were most effective. Nigel was, and continues to be, a firm believer in self-directed learning, so there was never any spoon-feeding and he taught me much more than clinical skills," remembers Dr Tan.

Assoc Prof Nigel Tan observing a physical examination by Senior Resident Dr Gareth Lim

National Medical Excellence Awards 2023 Clinician Educator recipient Assoc Prof Nigel Tan observing a physical examination by Senior Resident Dr Gareth Lim.

How to apply for funding, collaborate and negotiate with stakeholders to find solutions that benefit all parties were some of the other skills Dr Tan absorbed from Assoc Prof Tan. His enthusiasm for education had a positive impact on her career in other ways too.

"Nigel demonstrated that it's possible to be an effective clinician while also pursuing other areas of Academic Medicine and he inspired me to pursue my interest in research while continuing to see patients," says Dr Tan.  

Assoc Prof Tan was appointed Education Director, NNI, in 2011 (2011-2018). Recognising the need for formal training of education leaders, he led by example and graduated with a Master of Health Professions Education in 2013.

As Group Director Education (Undergraduate) for SingHealth (2018-present), A/Prof Tan led an interprofessional committee to conceptualise the Educator Development Framework. This framework provides guidance for all healthcare educators across the SingHealth DukeNUS Academic Medical Centre to grow and develop as educators, specifying roles, competencies and development opportunities.

"Being a clinician educator allows me to marry the two halves of my personality, the education part as well as the clinician part" Assoc Prof Nigel Tan

A respected clinician and epilepsy neurologist who continues to care for patients living with epilepsy and other neurological conditions, Assoc Prof Tan has a special interest in epilepsy genetics, a highly complex field that baffles many neurologists around the world.

To improve understanding and patient care, Assoc Prof Tan co-leads the Genetic Literacy Taskforce of the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE), the global organisation for epilepsy neurologists. He conceptualised the ILAE Genetic Literacy Series, aimed at educating fellow neurologists about epilepsy genetics, using evidence-based techniques to enhance learning.  By coordinating content and writing with international teams of authors, his efforts have led to nine publications in the series. These have been well-received, with international readership and global impact.

So, what is Assoc Prof Tan's advice for future specialists?

"Firstly, keep your senses about you and retain a sense of wonder and curiosity. Secondly, understand people, how they think, their wants, fears and hopes as this is important when working with patients and forging collaborations. And thirdly, have a sense of purpose in whatever you do as this will drive you both in the good times and the bad."

The National Medical Excellence Awards (NMEA) recognise excellence in the areas of care quality, patient safety, research, as well as education and training. Assoc Prof Nigel Tan received the NMEA 2023 Clinician Educator award at the NMEA ceremony held on 31 August, 2023. The annual national awards recognise the efforts of outstanding clinicians, clinician scientists and other healthcare professionals for their contributions and achievements in advancing healthcare, improving the standards of patient safety and driving research and education, which ultimately improve people's lives.