Outstanding Resident Award winner of the Residency in SingHealth Excels (RiSE) Awards 2020, Dr Yap Kok Hooi from the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, lives by this motto, ‘Never stay in your comfort zone’. That is why he always reminds himself not to be complacent whether at work, with his family or in life, and believes in setting clear goals and religiously sticking to them.

In our interview with Dr Yap, we discovered the story behind his choice for cardiothoracic surgery, the challenges in his learning journey and an important life lesson of his.

Fascination is the word

I was a senior house officer at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, Scotland, when I first met Dr Sai Prasad from the cardiothoracic surgery unit. He introduced me to the world of cardiothoracic surgery and showed me the ropes of being a cardiothoracic surgeon. I was awed by his deep knowledge of cardiology and respiratory medicine, and impressed by the skills one must be equipped with to perform the complex cardiothoracic surgical procedures. My fascination grew and I have never looked back since.

One step at a time

The learning journey and long working hours could be overwhelming. There were times of feeling lost and hard to even get through the day. The technique, ‘chunk-chew-check’ helps me a lot in managing stress and my training. First, we divide the “chunk” which is a bigger assignment into smaller tasks. Then “chew” on them, which means to focus on completing these smaller tasks that are seemingly more manageable. Finally, take time to “check” and reflect those tasks at the end of the day.

My strongest pillar of strength

Whenever I hit a roadblock in life, this particular memory of my father gives me strength to move on.

About 20 years ago, I just started secondary school in a small town in Kedah, Malaysia, where my parents had a butcher shop with enough business to get us by. Suddenly, the Nipah epidemic struck, and the virus spread among the pig farms and people started falling sick. The sales of pork dropped tremendously overnight. I recalled feeling scared; uncertain of what was going to happen and worried about my parents getting infected.

One particular day, when my father and I were sitting in the living room, I asked him if he was afraid. Knowing that I was unsettled, he assured me that he could manage and told me not to be worried. From his confidence and resilience, I was convinced that no matter how dire the situation was, my father could ‘hold the fort’.

My father passed on a few years later. But this memory remains etched in my heart till this day. Now with a family of my own, facing yet another pandemic outbreak, I finally understood how he must have felt then. His words that day taught me a lesson which still guides me today – “you can tide through any storm as long as you persevere”. My father has unknowingly become my strongest pillar of strength.