On 6 April 2021, the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine (LKCMedicine) held its first town hall session for the year. It was organised as a hybrid event where a maximum of 50 guests were seated in the Ong Tiong Tat & Irene Tan Liang Kheng auditorium in the School’s Clinical Sciences Building. The rest joined in virtually on Zoom.
As part of the Core Leadership’s ongoing efforts to engage all internal stakeholders, the School regularly conducts town hall meetings. The purpose of this meeting was a touch more sentimental this time – LKCMedicine came together to say thank you and pay tribute to our outgoing Dean Professor James Best, who had led the School to huge research and education successes in the past seven years, and also to welcome our new Dean Professor Joseph Sung who is concurrently Nanyang Technological University’s Senior Vice-President for Health and Life Sciences.
The town hall was opened by Vice-Dean for Research Professor Lim Kah Leong, who shared candid stories about his own encounters and friendship with Prof Best. “James is an atypical Dean. He was engaged and has a personal touch of kindness. You are truly the empathetic leader to all of us,” he said. “You are a gentle and effective leader. You are a gentleman leader.”
After reading out thank you messages from faculty members like Prof George Augustine, Prof Josip Car, and Prof Maurice van Steensel, he added, “Speaking on behalf of the faculty at LKCMedicine, we owe you a big debt of gratitude. You have contributed so much and done so much for us.”
Prof Lim then invited Prof Best to the stage to give his opening address. Prof Best began by thanking everyone at LKCMedicine for their support, kindness, the confidence they had placed in him all these years, their hard work, collegiality, and team spirit. “It has been a wonderful seven years for me and a wonderful journey because of the people I have worked with. That has always been the most important thing for me.
“It is quite an emotional time for me – I feel pride in what we have achieved together, some regret that I will be departing Singapore in a few months’ time, and great warmth towards the people that I’ve been working with and to all the good wishes that I have received.
“I am passing the baton to the new Dean, but it is a different type of baton. The Dean is merely a conductor of the symphony that is the School. The individual performance of every single person is important. It is great that I am passing the baton to someone who can help the School reach greater heights. Being Dean is not easy, but I am happy to be handing over the world of LKCMedicine to ‘Hercules’. Hercules did get Atlas to take the world back, but it won’t happen here!”
Prof Best then ended his speech by thanking everyone once more. “I’m finding it hard to express my gratitude for how welcoming people have been to me in Singapore all this time. What a wonderful journey it has been for me in partnership with all of you. Thank you, again. Thank you.”
Prof Lim returned to the stage to introduce Prof Sung, reminding us that the correct pronunciation of Prof Sung’s family name is “suhng”. “We have a hero in our midst for Joseph is a SARS hero. And for three years in a row, Joseph was declared the most cited researcher,” he said. “And what many do not know is that he is an avid writer and an accomplished calligrapher.”
The spotlight then shifted to Prof Sung who took to the stage to share his vision for the School’s next lap. Explaining the research agenda he has set for LKCMedicine for the next 10 years, he said, “Currently, we have a centralised administration to support our five research domains. But the central administration may not understand all the needs of the domains.
“We also need to develop a good career plan for our clinician-scientists. To help better establish their career ladders, we should have a Programme Director and a Clinical Co-Director in all five major domains of our research.”
Speaking at length about his desire to build a closer relationship with the National Healthcare Group (NHG), “I want us to better engage NHG. NHG’s themes are aligned with LKCMedicine’s, but there is not enough dialogue and communication between the two.
“I would like for us to also engage other schools within NTU – the School of Biological Sciences, the Singapore Centre for Environmental Life Sciences Engineering, the School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, for example. We should also collaborate with the National University of Singapore and Duke-NUS Medical School.”
Prof Sung went on to state that he would like to increase the number of faculty with clinical background at LKCMedicine. He also expressed his wish for more platforms (like research seminars, grand-rounds in hospitals) to encourage dialogue and communication, including informal gatherings to build friendship and trust.
He also spoke about building a data science group and working to strengthen the microbiome and regenerative research groups. He reminded the School that with the advancements in technology in medicine, it was important that we learn how to utilise technology in healthcare and disease prevention. Artificial Intelligence, for example, will redefine the role of doctors. “It is only through machines that we will be able to understand what it is to be human,” he said.
And finally, Prof Sung talked about his desire to inform society of all that we are doing. “We must replace jargon with layman terms. Let’s all work together to give our Communications Office good stories so that they can package it for the public.”
Summing up his plan, Prof Sung said, “Here’s our goal for the next 10 years: Impactful discoveries, useful patents, more clinicians and academics, more faculty members, an increase in research grants, and greater collaboration and engagement with other disciplines.”
Turning to Prof Best, he said, “James, I hope that you will continue to work with us, not just in the next few months, but also in the years to come.”
The highlight of the town hall session was undoubtedly the presentation of the Appreciation Token by Prof Sung to Prof Best. The gift was a large calligraphy artwork done by Prof Sung himself. “I heard that you have a big home in Melbourne,” he said to Prof Best. “So I found the biggest piece of paper I could find on my desk. And I’ve also heard that your wife can read Chinese. So this is for you to remember us when you’re back in Australia.”
Translating the Chinese characters in black ink on a white scroll, Prof Sung described its meaning to Prof Best: “Much like in the Spring, when the wind brings showers, you will see trees bearing all kinds of fruits that will fill your house. This serves as a thank you message to teachers. Those you have educated and trained are your fruits, and they will fill your life.”
Prof Best responded warmly, saying, “Your artistry is astounding. I will mount this and put it in a place of pride.”
Both Prof Sung, Prof Best, and the Core Leadership then had a few photos taken together with the calligraphy artwork, and the Q&A segment began immediately after. The seven-member panel was made up of Prof Sung, Prof Best, Prof Lim, Vice-Dean for Education Prof Jennifer Cleland, Vice-Dean for Faculty Affairs A/Prof Andrew Tan Prof, Chief Operating Officer Dr Serene Ng, with Vice-Dean for Clinical Affairs Prof Pang Weng Sun joining in on Zoom. Several questions were asked by audiences in the auditorium and on Zoom.
The town hall meeting drew to a close with Prof Sung announcing that he would very much like to engage our students. “Education and research should go hand-in-hand,” he said. “If we want to develop clinicians who are interested in science, let’s do that before they graduate.”