Patients buy him sandwiches

PHOTO: Patients buy him sandwiches

SINGAPORE - Doctors are supposed to take care of their patients.

But this doctor is such a workaholic - he works seven days a week - that his concerned patients buy him lunch.

Yesterday, Dr Tang Choong Leong, 48, the head of Singapore General Hospital's (SGH) colorectal surgery department, was recognised for his dedication with a Singapore Health Quality Service Award, given by SingHealth.

He was one of six winners of the Superstar Award, and only one of two clinicians to clinch it.

Now in its second year, the Singapore Health Quality Service Award is given to health-care, support and administrative staff for exceptional care and service.

Dr Tang is known for working through lunch, so sometimes, patients would buy sandwiches for him.But the meals often go uneaten on the senior consultant surgeon's desk.

"It's a way for me to cut down on calories," said Dr Tang.

His habit of skipping lunch is one that his wife, assistant nurse Tang Bee Chuan, 47, knows all too well.

She works part-time at the National Cancer Centre, a stone's throw from her husband's workplace.

Once, she left a lunchbox in his office only to return at 5pm to see it untouched on his desk.

"I try to feed him but when he's busy, the food gets cold. So now, I don't stress him with lunch," Mrs Tang said. "We're both in the medical field, so I know what it's like."

Mention Dr Tang's 14-hour workdays and she said with a shrug: "It can't be helped."

What about his leaving work at 1am?

She said: "I would rather he finish what he has at work than see him bringing his work home." The couple, who have been married for 19 years, take work demands in their stride.

Like when Dr Tang returns to the office on Sunday or when he has to rush to the hospital in the middle of the night.

"He's obviously not the best model for work-life balance," Mrs Tang said with a grin.

Wedding anniversary

Wedding anniversary

"But it doesn't mean he prioritises work over everything else. I believe he knows how to strike a balance."

When The New Paper met them on Thursday night, it was their wedding anniversary.

Waving away our apologies about the timing, Dr Tang said: "We don't have any special celebrations planned anyway."

Chiming in, Mrs Tang said: "We're practical people. I don't believe in special anniversaries."

The couple, who are childless, said that this is what they want. Added Dr Tang: "Our families don't pressure us to have children."

The couple met and fell in love at work.

As Dr Tang described it: "Doctor meets nurse. Doctor kacau (Malay for disturb) nurse. They spend a lot of time together. Then they get married."

The couple make it a point to go to work and return home together.

Sometimes, Mrs Tang would wait up to 10pm for her husband to leave the office. She said: "It's all a matter of how you adjust. I'll wait in his office till he's done. Sometimes, I'll take a walk around Chinatown."

Dr Tang added: "Some people say such closeness causes friction but we're okay."

Another taboo they debunked was marrying someone from the same office.

"People always say you shouldn't do that. So I broke the rules," DrTang said with a chuckle.

They also travel overseas together, up to three times a year for conferences.

Said Dr Tang: "Conferences are like mini holidays. It's not all work and no play. There'll be some time for us to explore. There are many things to learn (during the conferences). And they provide us a chance to network."

So busy is his schedule that Mrs Tang plans their holidays a year in advance.

This year, she's hoping go on a week-long cruise with Dr Tang in May.

Sometimes though, work does get in the way and they have to cancel trips.

Still, Dr Tang is unapologetic about his workload.

"There's a certain shelf life to being a surgeon. Now, I'm in my prime and doing what I'm supposed to do."