Published on 05 Dec 2021
The ROAD to success in Medicine
Professor Joseph Sung
Dean, Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine
Every year we have hundreds of medical graduates from the three medical schools in Singapore. Many would ask them, “what would be your preferred choice for future career in Medicine?”
In my days, together with fellow young medical students, our dreams were usually to be a physician, a surgeon, an orthopaedic surgeon or a paediatrician. In this day and age, I was told that the ROAD to success in Medicine is to choose and be chosen to train as a Radiologist, Ophthalmologist, Anesthesiologist or Dermatologist.
While these are interesting specialties with lots of advancements in recent years on diagnosis and therapeutics of respective conditions, the reasons behind making these as our fresh graduates’ first choice is often not that admirable. Some young doctors told me that they choose ROAD because the working hours are short, or at least predictable, to maintain a “work-life-balance”. “Life begins after work, as you go out with friends, go home for a cozy dinner, and watch a movie or go out for a drink to finish up”. “No emergency calls, no staying up late at night, no physical torturing in the operating room…” Others told me that they choose ROAD because that’s where the money is. These specialties are in demand in the private sector and they get good pay for the amount of time they put in. In some countries, these are also the specialties where promotions to consultant/senior consultant are faster and easier.
Is that why you choose to study Medicine in the first place? Is that what you are inspired to be, as a future doctor: an easy job that earns a fortune? I hope not.
I suggest the ROAD to success to be slightly different.
Resilience: the ability to return to a good condition after a period of tough times and challenges. As a young scholar and a future doctor who looks after people in pain and suffering, you need to be able to stand up to challenges. The studying might be burdensome and the examinations might be hard, but you will not be defeated. The hours might be long and the training might be tough, but your determination to excel will not be shaken.
COllaboration: the ability to work with others as a team with the same target, sharing the success or failure. As Medicine gets more and more sophisticated, management of patients with many diseases requires a multi-disciplinary approach. Doctors (of various specialties), nurses, pharmacists, physiotherapists, psychologists and others often need to work together as a team. Sometimes the doctor is on the driving seat, sometimes he/she might be listening and coping.
Aspiration: strong hope and wish to achieve and succeed. With your talent and ability, I am sure you have many aspirations. Is it to be a clinician-scientist inventing something disruptive that changes the practice of Medicine? To be a caring physician that wins the heart of your patients and family? To be a professor and nurture future generations of healthcare practitioners? Don’t get complacent too easily. There are many more milestones waiting.
Diligence: the quality of working very carefully with a lot of effort. This is very much needed in Medicine. There is no shortcut in Medicine, and definitely no shortcut in Science. To be good in anything, be it diagnostic skills, surgery, research or patient communication, you have to practise, improve, and practise again with perseverance. When I was a young gastroenterology trainee, I had to perform endoscopy for over 50 patients every single day. Then I learned how to recognise diseases in the stomach and colon; how to cut the ampulla of Vater without causing bleeding; how to remove stones in the bile duct without surgery; and how NOT to miss any lesions in the gut. Patience and diligence, like faith, move mountains. “Diligence is the mother of Good Luck”, according to Benjamin Franklin.
So, instead of choosing the easy and lucrative ROAD to success, I suggest you take the challenging but rewarding ROAD of Resilience, COllaboration, Aspiration and Diligence.