Published on 01 Sep 2021

A Good Doctor or a Great Doctor


Professor Joseph Sung
Dean, Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine


To all medical students,

It has been more than six months since I touched down on the soil of Singapore. I feel excited and honoured for this opportunity to lead a young and vibrant medical school.

We have just entered a new academic year, and as the new Dean of Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, I would like to communicate regularly with our students, both undergraduate and postgraduate through a monthly blog to convey some of my thinking about the medical profession, ethics and the humanity in Medicine. In the coming months, I would like to share with you my values, my experience as a medical doctor and, as a patient myself.

Medicine is a very special profession. Patients and their family, when we have earned their trust, often open themselves to us.  We will be told of their physical illness, their pain, their suffering and sometimes secrets they have been hiding for a long time. Very often, these nuggets of information are interconnected as their pain may reflect their physical and psychological problems; their suffering is aggravated by challenges in life and in relationships; their feelings are not known by even close family members. This is the time when we, as healthcare workers and care providers, can utilise our professional knowledge and clinical skills, exercise discretion, show empathy and patience, to find out the problem behind the symptoms of their illness.  

When you see patients getting better, because of your care and the medicine you prescribe, when you see smiles on their faces because they feel reassured after your explanation, when you see the family coming together to support each other and their appreciation for your tender loving care, satisfaction and bliss will fill your heart. This is something no money can buy.  Isn’t that a privilege? You can use what you’ve learned to help others and at the same time, earn a good living and feel accomplished in your life.

William Osler was arguably the greatest physician of the 19th Century. A big portrait of him hangs proudly in the library of the Johns Hopkins Medical Centre in Baltimore. As you begin your journey to be a doctor, I urge you to remember this famous Osler quote: “It is much more important to know what sort of patient has a disease than what sort of disease a patient has… The good physician treats the disease, the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.”

The Four Doctors by John Singer Sargent, 1906, Oil on canvas, Courtesy of The Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives of The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.

When we interview students for admission to medical school, we often ask “Why do you choose Medicine?”.   Nine out of ten students will answer, “I choose Medicine because I want to help those who are suffering”. Unfortunately, once they start medical school, they are too busy mugging all the medical terms and jargons, they are too excited putting in a drip (intravenous line into the blood vessels of patients) or learning to stitch up a wound. By the time they graduate and start work in clinics and hospitals, they are too pre-occupied with their heavy clinical duties, spending time to fill up mountains of data sheet, trying the technique and technology and discharging patients home from hospitals and clinics. All too often, they forget that behind every illness, there is a person, a human being who is somebody’s father, somebody’s wife, somebody’s son. Their worries, their dignity and their feelings are often neglected. If you can take care of the humanity side of Medicine, then you will be a great doctor and not just a good doctor.

I will share with you more stories and my personal experience in the coming months.

Remember this “Medicine is Science, as well as Art”.

My very best wishes to each and everyone of you!