Profile: Up close with Associate Professor Tan Cher Heng

One year after assuming the role of LKCMedicine Assistant Dean of Clinical Research, Associate Professor Tan Cher Heng speaks to The LKCMedicine about his journey in the School as well as his passion for medicine and research. He is also a Senior Consultant with the Department of Diagnostic Radiology at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) and Assistant Chairman Medical Board (Clinical Research and Innovation) as well as a member of the Clinical Board in TTSH. 

It has been a year since you assumed the position as LKCMedicine's Assistant Dean for Clinical Research. How has it been so far? What in particular attracted you to LKCMedicine?

I have enjoyed taking up my role tremendously. LKCMedicine's faculty, under the leadership of Professor James Best as Dean and Professor Lim Kah Leong as Vice-Dean of Research, has made me feel most welcome as a colleague and a friend. I have always felt affiliated to LKCMedicine, having been a clinical teaching faculty since the School's inception.

Accepting my current appointment has been a great opportunity for me to contribute to the School in other areas beyond education. 

Could you elaborate on your role as the School's Assistant Dean for Clinical Research? 

My main role is to play the "human bridge" between LKCMedicine, and the National Healthcare Group (NHG) which I am also a part of. Where appropriate, I would advise our Dean and Vice-Dean of Research on matters dating to clinical research. Most importantly, I seek to facilitate the exchange between the scientific faculty of LKCMedicine and the clinicians from NHG through various platforms and events.

Have you always been interested in medicine? 

I have always been passionate about science and Medicine was a career that would allow me to apply my knowledge from school in practice. I consider myself a late bloomer, in that my passion for medicine was truly ignited only after I graduated from medical school. Dealing with patients required not just technical know-how but also empathy; the rigours of clinical practice have taught me why medicine is often described to be a "calling".

Would you be able to share about your multiple roles at TTSH and NHG? 

As a clinical radiologist, my job is to interpret findings on medical imaging (such as CT and MRI scans) to support the referring physician in making the most appropriate management decisions for patients. As Assistant Chairman Medical Board (Clinical Research and Innovation) and Clinical Board member, my role is to champion the research and innovation agenda so that all practitioners who are interested in scientific enquiry may be supported in translating science into clinical practice.

How do you apply what you do at TTSH to LKCMedicine? 

Forging close collaboration between NHG and LKCMedicine allows our clinicians to approach their clinical problem statements with greater academic rigour. In a similar vein, at LKCMedicine, my role is to help our faculty to engage the appropriate clinical partner when the need arises. At times, I also provide Prof Best and Prof Lim with healthcare institutions' perspectives on governance and facilitation of clinical research and innovation.   

What made you interested in the field of diagnostic radiology? 

Due to my interest in physics, I nearly entered engineering school instead of medical school! However, I felt at that time that a medical career would be more meaningful to me. In medical school, I enjoyed anatomy and pathology most as they provided me with explanations to the human form and diseases. Radiology offers the opportunity for doctors to investigate clinical phenomena by visualising disease in organs, combining our understanding of physics, anatomy, and pathology.    

As Deputy Clinical Director of CHI and Committee Member in NHG Centre for Medical Technologies and Innovation, how do you facilitate clinical innovation collaborations between TTSH and NHG with industry and academic partners? Why is this important? 

Facilitating clinical innovation requires working with funding bodies and government agencies, bringing scientists and industry collaborators to partner NHG clinicians in their quest to design and create solutions to solve real-world clinical problems. This is an important and exciting field because technology, particularly digital solutions, has advanced rapidly and accelerating the process of its adoption into clinical medicine allows us a unique opportunity to improve productivity and transform healthcare.

Who have been your influencers or mentors, whether in work or life? 

I spend a large part of my time at work, so my mentors and influencers come from there. I consider myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity of working with senior leaders in TTSH – Chairmen of Medical Boards, CEOs, clinical heads – past and present. Insights into how they make decisions have shaped my priorities: by putting patients interests first, collective leadership and staying guided by my core values. Of note, I regard TTSH Emeritus Consultant Professor Low Cheng Hock as a role model whose humility, kindness and wise words have constantly reminded me that it is a privilege to serve.

What is your proudest accomplishment so far? 

I view the work that I do as a continuum and not as an accumulation of accolades. Being able to contribute makes our healthcare system better through research and innovation is a meaningful endeavour worthy of being proud, and as the saying goes, "the best is yet to be"!