During her 40 plus year career, Associate Professor Ratnagopal Pavanni, Senior Consultant, Neurology, NNI, has mentored several generations of neurologists, many of whom have gone on to hold key leadership positions in NNI and SingHealth. Last month, Assoc Prof Pavanni received the SingHealth Excellence Awards 2024 Distinguished Mentor Award in recognition of her contribution in elevating the quality of healthcare professionals through mentorship.

Whether pioneering stem cell transplants for patients with multiple sclerosis, establishing the Sleep Disorders service or leading the Department of Neurology, Assoc Prof Pavanni has always made time to mentor trainee neurologists, colleagues and other healthcare professionals.

A highly respected neurologist, researcher and educator, Assoc Pavanni is known for mentoring and nurturing healthcare professionals at different stages of their career, from medical students to heads of departments and colleagues in other positions of leadership.

Assoc Prof Pavanni qualified as a doctor in 1980 and became a Senior Registrar in 1989, (the equivalent of an Associate Consultant today), working with neurology patients. She co-led the creation of the Department of Neurology at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) in 1993, and was appointed Head of Department in 2002, when it became part of the National Neuroscience Institute.

She describes those times as “busy but fun” and made looking after her staff a key priority.

“I had one rule for my department: clinical service must finish by 5pm. In reality, this wasn’t easy, but I wanted them to know that they should not stay late because they needed to rest. When staff ran Saturday clinics, they were expected to go home once they had seen their patients and not wait until the official end of their workday,” recalls Assoc Prof Pavanni.

Despite her heavy clinical and administrative workload, Assoc Prof Pavanni continued to mentor and train her staff. Assoc Prof Prakash, Head and Senior Consultant, Department of Neurology, NNI@SGH was the first trainee under her headship. Describing Assoc Prof Pavanni’s leadership as a “beacon of inspiration”, Assoc Prof Prakash said she never wavered in her commitment to mentor and uplift her team.

“Her genuine care for each individual's growth and her tireless dedication taught me the true essence of compassionate leadership,” says Assoc Prof Prakash. “In my own headship, I carry forward her legacy to lead with kindness, prioritise my team's development, and face challenges with grace and resilience. Her profound impact on my professional journey remains a guiding light when making important decisions”.

Other senior consultant neurologists who have benefited from Assoc Prof Pavanni’s mentorship and gone on to leadership positions in SingHealth and NNI, include:
  • Prof Tan Eng King, Deputy Chief Executive Officer (Academic Affairs), NNI
  • Prof Lo Yew Long, Group Director, Research (Research Integrity, Compliance & Ethics), SingHealth and Deputy CEO (Clinical Quality) and former Head of Department, Neurology, NNI@SGH
  • Assoc Prof Deidre Anne De Silva, Immediate past Head of Department, Neurology, NNI@SGH and Vice Chair (Clinical), Neuroscience ACP

However, Assoc Prof Pavanni’s mentoring and training have extended beyond doctors to include creating a specialist neuroscience nursing programme in the department and training neurology technicians in the neurodiagnostic unit.

Today, Assoc Prof Pavanni has one of the busiest clinical schedules in the department, but she continues to train and mentor juniors in her understated and maternal manner.

Seeing the need for guiding trainees in a more personalised and nurturing setting, Assoc Prof Pavanni initiated Pantry Rounds. This weekly education programme for Neurology senior residents is an opportunity for them to learn from real cases they encounter in clinical practice, and to discuss non-clinical problems they face, such as how to handle negative feedback.

“When a consultant criticises your work, listen to what they say and ask yourself objectively ‘Is it truly warranted?’ The feedback is usually based on a factual issue and is warranted, so learn from it and move on,” advises Assoc Prof Pavanni.

And her advice for specialists?

“Medicine is a career that lasts a lifetime, so expand your expertise along the way so you don’t get bored. Start by choosing a field of neurology to sub-specialise in, and once you are highly proficient, look for another area of neurology to expand your clinical expertise and knowledge. Alternatively, take your time to dabble in research and education to see which interests you the most and follow this track in tandem with your clinical work so you are continuously challenged and engaged,” says Assoc Prof Pavanni.

Two other NNI staff also received  the SingHealth Excellence Awards 2024:
  • GCEO Excellence Awards 2024 Outstanding Clinician Award – Assoc Prof Tay Kay Yaw, Head & Senior Consultant, Neurology, NNI@Woodlands Health
  • GCEO Excellence Awards 2024 Outstanding Administrative and Ancillary Staff Award – Halimatul Sa’adiah Bte Idris, Senior Patient Service Associate Executive, Neuroscience Specialist Outpatient Clinic, NNI