So You Want To Be A Doctor
A Chance Encounter At A Big Seminar
On 25 May, last Saturday, I had the pleasure of participating in “So You Want To Be A Doctor?”. This is a seminar organised for about 300 young students considering a career in medicine. Although she would rather be a Ninja than a doctor, little M5 accompanied me. Thankfully there was a booth by the organisers, Wildtype Media, who publish Asian Scientist & science books including children’s books. M5 enjoyed these very much.
As I walked around the booths, someone called out to me. A teenager and his mother recognised me from my DARE programme. He told me his father had witnessed a cardiac arrest while jogging in the Botanic Gardens. Fortunately, he started CPR immediately and the victim survived. Subsequently this teenager was moved to write to the national newspaper, encouraging CPR education in schools. Agreeing with him, I replied, in Anatomy of A Letter. This was my first time meeting him and I was thrilled to share with him about our progress At The Heart of The Matter.
So You Want To Be A Doctor? Here’s The Reality:
The title of my keynote speech was “How I Charted My Medical Career”. I’ll share a little here.
High Physical & Mental Stress- Learn To Cope
First of all, I described life as a paediatric emergency specialist. Although the life of a doctor is fulfilling, it is also hard. Of relevance is the shift work, which wreaks havoc on your sleep-cycle and hormones. But it’s worth it because my heart is full. I actually really enjoy the work I do, so the constant jetlagged feeling is par for the course.
Then, I discussed the range of cases that we see in the children’s emergency department, including very ill patients who need critical care. Although we save lives, sometimes we have to break bad news. On the other hand, there are also some patients whose parents get abusive about the long waiting time for non-urgent cases. The reality is, we deal with a lot of mental stress. Therefore, I encouraged the audience to recognise signs of stress and discussed how I cope. After all, the best time to think about mental wellness & coping strategies is now, before depression sets in.
You Never Know Everything- Learn Constantly
Other than clinical medicine, most of us who work in government hospitals also teach various students. I shared about how I love this because it allows me to keep learning as I update my lectures. It’s also wonderful to spend time with the next generation of paediatricians, nurses and paramedics, all of whom we actively teach. Sometimes I involve my students in research projects as well. For instance, in this paper, http://www.smj.org.sg/article/understanding-decisions-leading-nonurgent-visits-paediatric-emergency-department-caregivers , my student helped interview parents about why they come to the Children’s Emergency. That student is now paediatric resident.
Not to mention my child-health education videos on my fledgling YouTube channel: http://youtube.com/c/DrJadeKua. This is a completely new medium for me. However, young parents prefer it so I’m learning how to do better community education.
Dream It; Do It
One of the most fun bits about being a doctor is the impact you can make. In fact, you don’t have to be a CEO or big shot to make big changes. A prime example is my DARE programme and mobile app, which I cobbled together with like-minded partners from the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, the SCDF and a host of others.
Want To Be A Doctor At The Bench, Bedside & Beyond?
The Man By The Ringside
After my talk, there was an interesting panel discussion among 3 doctors. The first, orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Alan Cheung, shared that he was a Cambridge graduate with a love for sports. He showed us some gory photographs of the work he does as a ringside doctor for a mixed martial arts tournament. He also showed an impressive video of robotic orthopaedic surgery. What a cool dude!
The Man Of The Future
Then the Group Chief Technological Officer of the National University Health System, Dr Ngiam Kee Yuan, told us about how technology influences healthcare. A student asked if technology will ever replace doctors. He replied that patient care will always require a human touch which algorithms can never replace. I felt relieved. So you want to be a doctor too? At least our jobs won’t be taken away by robots.
The Man With The Plan
Finally, Dr Chester Drum, a cardiologist and professor with the National University of Singapore, talked about the importance of research. A student asked how much emphasis is placed on research. The answer is, whatever you like. You may want to be a doctor as well as a research scientist. For Dr Chester, who has a PhD, a lot of time is spent pushing the barriers of discovery. All the safe protocols & plans we use as clinicians depend on the research that people like Dr Chester does. When we practise evidence-based medicine and stick to the plan, it keeps our patients & doctors safe.
Meet & Greet
After our session, some students came up to ask more questions. Some asked about how to break bad news; some asked about how I cope with encountering death frequently.
One of the most interesting questions was, “What are the three most important qualities to have if you want to be a doctor?” For many specialists, the path is long & hard. I find that it’s important to be brave and fail often. This may be counter-intuitive for these students who want to be a doctor because they have only enjoyed academic success. But failure for me, is an old friend and I think I am stronger for it. Consequently, the second quality I think is important to have, is resilience. It is ok to fall, but get back up. Big hugs all around for trying & failing but please get back up again. Get the job done. Lastly, the third quality is humility. Medicine is constantly changing and there are so many new things to learn.
Well, I had a great Saturday. Not only did I meet new students & other doctors, I even had little M5 with me. When she decides against being a Ninja, perhaps one day she’ll come listen to these students speak about their successful medical careers!