Profile: Hold on to the memories

By Anne Loh, Assistant Director, Communications and Outreach 

"My greatest accomplishments are the special relationships I've built — nurtured with the pioneer staff and the new friends I've made through my work with LKCMedicine," said out-going Executive Vice-Dean,
Strategic Affairs and International Relations, Professor Lionel Lee during his final interview with The LKCMedicine.

With the retirement of Prof Lee at the end of March, 2019, many felt that LKCMedicine has come to the
end of a chapter, on the verge of starting a new one. In a way, this is apt as Prof Lee is a pioneer member
of the LKCMedicine leadership team, with the School’s first cohort now at the end of their Postgraduate Year 1.

And in a fitting farewell, a special celebration was held in his honour on March 27 at the Ong Tiong Tat & Irene Tan Liang Kheng Auditorium on the Novena campus, attended by more than 200 students, staff and faculty.

Prof Lee joined the School in 2011 as Chief Operating Officer, with only a few members on the team, tasked with building Singapore’s newest medical school from the ground up. When the first intake of students — Class of 2018 — matriculated in 2013, he was appointed Professor and Executive Vice-Dean of Administration. He was involved in the establishment of the MBBS, PhD and Research programmes. Last year, Prof Lee was designated Executive Vice-Dean, Strategic Affairs and International Relations. 

Prof Lee at the OneLKC Christmas Market to benefit Dover Park Hospice

Prof Lee believed in building a strong School community and, among his many tasks, made it his mission to build a vibrant OneKLC community, where faculty, staff and students can work together on and bond over events such as the Family Fair for Autism benefitting St Andrew’s Autism Centre, and the Christmas Market last year, which saw proceeds going to Dover Park Hospice.

“I wish that the ethos of OneLKC continues, as one big family. We are all collaborators and collegiate. This sets the working environment. Even as the School grows bigger, the sentiments of being one big family should continue,” said Prof Lee.

This spirit of collaboration is also what makes the LKCMedicine research community flourish, which he sees
as an important building block for the School's success. “I wish all the individual Principal Investigators would realise that the School would be better served and as a result, they would be able to do better science for the glory of the School.” 

Five other building blocks for LKCMedicine's continued growth were laid out by Prof Lee: the ability to work
with the two parent institutions in order to secure a unified vision and drive; making the LKCMedicine MBBS distinctive, especially in its brave, wholescale use of the TBL approach and anchoring it to a technology-enhanced teaching and learning system; a strong and stable relationship with NTU within which the School can express itself to establish a distinctive reputation early; the clinical community around NHG that aspired to have a medical school; and the purpose-built and future-proofed design of LKCMedicine facilities and infrastructure.

“I envisage a formidable growth in the international reputation of the School, in the securing of funds to promote academic excellence and the recognition of the MBBS by the Singapore public and of our own students,” said Prof Lee.

Ultimately though, it is the people along the way, met while turning the dream of the School into a reality, that will leave Prof Lee with the best memories.

One ex-colleague Prof Lee is still in touch with is former Senior Vice-Dean Professor Martyn Partridge,
whom he “got on famously with”. "I used to drive him to work when he lived near me; I miss him a lot," said Prof Lee, with a laugh. "He provided a professional leadership that endeared him to his peers and subordinates". 

Former Senior Vice-Dean Professor Jenny Higham was instrumental in bringing the weight of the entire
Imperial faculty and staff behind the new medical school, said Prof Lee, “She is well-respected for her medical education insights and has a clear passion to see LKCMedicine succeed.” 

Former Dean Professor Dermot Kelleher was also someone Prof Lee admired as a leader and colleague, “He had to take hard decisions in order to strengthen the relationship between Imperial and NTU when it was vulnerable. He was responsible for recruiting senior faculty and he had good insight as to their potential.” 

This relationship is still going strong even though Prof Kelleher has since left to take up the deanship of the University of British Columbia's Faculty of Medicine. They were able to work together on having the inaugural Singapore-Ireland Collaborative Research Symposium hosted at LKCMedicine last March.

In the current LKCMedicine Dean Professor James Best is a leader that Prof Lee respects for his effectiveness in building relationships, “Prof Best provides a steady hand and is a leader that will listen to all but will eventually make his own decision. He’s also instrumental in getting the faculty to go beyond themselves, to make the School part of their aims and ambitions.”

Working with Mr Lim Chuan Poh, who was not only Chairman of the School’s Pro-Tem Governing Board but also the Governing Board, Prof Lee had this to say, “I respect the Chairman because he provides direction and has an uncanny awareness of the School’s progress and what it takes for the School to succeed,
without getting involved in the day-today running.”

During this interview, Prof Lee also insisted on acknowledging the support he’s had from the corporate directors: current Chief Operating Officer Chan Wei Chuen; Director of Communications and Outreach Siti Rohanah Koid; Director of Development, Planning and Strategic Affairs Suzanne Lim; Director of Finance
Janet Teo; Director of Operations and Resources Tan Hee Kiang; Director of Research Administration and Support Services Dr Andrew Ang; Director of Education Management Ruth Choe; and then-Director of E-Learning and IT Services Paul Gagnon. “Everyone rolled up their sleeves and put their hand on the plow, working as a team even when there was a lack of staff or long hours,” said Prof Lee.

NHG, as LKCMedicine’s primary clinical partner, is a case in point where it is the people who matter, “In the early days, no meeting with Imperial was conducted without NHG. Many of the clinical staff worked in partnership with Imperial lecturers to secure the curriculum for the first two years while the consecutive three years after that had strong NHG input – NHG clinicians brought the Singaporean contribution to the Imperial MBBS,” said Prof Lee. “The relationship grown wasn’t just at the organisation level, but cemented at the individual level between people.”

In his time with the School, whether interacting with international visitors from other institutes of higher learning, LKCMedicine faculty and staff, or NHG, Prof Lee has always brought his passion for the School to bear. 

Prof Best summed it up best, “He has put his heart and soul into the task, and has imbued us with his enthusiasm, energy and sense of purpose. His legacy will long endure and we will remain grateful for
his pioneering spirit. I have also been most grateful and fortunate to have had Prof Lionel as a colleague and friend, and I valued greatly his support and advice.” We will certainly miss him and wish him all the best.