Doctor at your call

PHOTO: Doctor at your call

SINGAPORE - Months after Dr Madeleine Chew, 39, started her private practice in 2003, the Sars epidemic hit. The National University Hospital (NUH) asked to tap into her expertise in epidemiological work. For the doctor, the call of duty took priority over business.

It was not an easy decision, as her husband was also stationed at NUH, in its oncology department. She said: "If that hospital went down, the two of us would be down. And we had a young daughter to look after."

Dr Chew is married to Dr Wong Seng Weng, 41, a consultant medical oncologist in private practice. They have an 11-year-old daughter, Victoria.

Dr Chew took extra care - soaking her clothes in disinfectant and minimising contact with her family.

"We were very careful and lucky."

After the epidemic subsided, she focused on her private practice - MW Medical.

She started out with a team of two: herself and an assistant. Now, she has a team of 56, which includes doctors, nurses and administrative staff.

There are difficulties, though. It is hard for her to turn away patients who cannot afford her services.

She said: "They pay in instalments. Sometimes, they take a while, and it can affect our finances. To be fair to most of my patients, they do pay."

The managing director jokingly admitted that the chief financial officer breathes down her neck. But she added: "The team here understands that we should take a more benevolent approach."

Another obstacle she faces is changing the mindset of Singaporeans towards house calls. She said: "It continues to be a challenge, because the concept of having doctors at home is that this is extravagant, rather than a necessity."

Asked why she chose to specialise in this service, Dr Chew said: "I wanted to spend more time with my patients. I wanted to understand them better and I thought that the best way was to go to their homes."

She knows it is difficult to spend more time with patients at a clinic, where consultations have to be quick.

That's how MW Medical's team of mobile doctors was born.

This high-flyer hails from humble beginnings. She was born to a clerical-officer father and a Chinese-teacher mother, and has a younger brother.

They lived in a one-room rented Housing Board flat in Commonwealth, before moving to a three-room flat in Holland.

Her parents are living proof that one can rise through the ranks through sheer hard work. When she was 13, the family moved to a private property - a semi-detached house in Sixth Avenue.

She said: "My parents worked very hard and they saved their earnings."

When my paper asked if she would like her daughter to follow in her footsteps, the doctor said no. She explained: "For the simple reason that (the job) would require her to sacrifice too much personal time."

Adopting a laissez-faire parenting approach, she added: "My daughter is not an extension of me. She is free to make her own choices."

About Dr Madeleine Chew

Dr Madeleine Chew, 39 is a managing director and founder of MW Medical, which specialises in providing 24-hour islandwide house-call services.

Education: The Singapore Chinese Girls' School and Hwa Chong Junior College. Medical degree from the National University of Singapore.

Career: After graduating in 1997,Dr Chew worked in various hospitals, gaining a wide variety of experience in areas such as plastic surgery, obstetrics and gynaecology.

In 1999, she was appointed Assistant Commissioner at the Ministry of the Environment and was a key epidemiologist investigating the nipah-virus outbreak in Singapore.

Dr Chew founded MW Medical in 2003. From 2006 to 2007, she took on an additional role as medical director and chief executive of Westpoint Hospital.

This year, she opened her flagship clinic at Marina Bay Sands.

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