WHEN psychiatrist Wong Kim Eng joined mental hospital Woodbridge 40 years ago, her alarmed relatives had visions of the petite, 1.5m tall doctor being beaten up by violent patients.
"Back then, mental health patients were perceived of as violent, especially those who were institutionalised," said Associate Professor Wong, who is emeritus consultant for addiction medicine at the Institute of Mental Health.
But she learnt first hand that the patients were rarely violent. "With some help, they opened up about their lives. It was a job that allowed me to understand people, which I like," she said.
Prof Wong was honoured with the Lee Foundation-National Healthcare Group Lifetime Achievement Award on Tuesday, alongside rheumatology, allergy and immunology specialist, Professor Chng Hiok Hee of Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH). Ten staff in corporate and administrative roles were also recognised.
During her decades of mental health work, Prof Wong, 66, has helped reduce the stigma against patients through outreach programmes. She also played a key role in setting up the National Addictions Management Service as its first clinical director in 2010.
Prof Chng, 61, took home the other lifetime achievement award for being one of Singapore's pioneering rheumatologists and allergists.
The senior consultant at TTSH's department of rheumatology, allergy and immunology has trained hundreds of local and foreign doctors - some from Malaysia and Bangladesh - who are now helping patients back home.
With more than three decades on the job, Prof Chng has seen many patients grow up, including those with lupus, where the body is attacked by its own immune system, which can be fatal.
"With good medication, I've seen some grow up, get married and have the life they thought they could not. It's most satisfying," she said.
This article was first published on May 28, 2015. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.