Those who can, teach

I have been a doctor in the public sector for about 20 years.

Through the years, I have been asked quite a number of times why I am still in the public sector when life is better in the private sector.

One can be a good doctor, regardless of whether one is in a private or public institution.

But I stay in the public sector for several reasons.

First, it gives me the chance to serve the community, especially those who cannot afford the cost of health care.

Essential medical care for my patients, who have genetic and metabolic diseases, is more likely to be expensive by the nature of their conditions.

These patients generally cannot afford the cost of private-sector care.

Many have also been deemed uninsurable - they have no Medishield or private insurance. This is a situation I hope will get better when the improved national medical insurance scheme, Medishield Life, is implemented.

Fortunately, by being treated in the public sector, many patients can access government subsidies.

When their finances get tight, they can access MediFund.

For those who cannot, thankfully, there are charity funds, such as the NUHkids Fund which helps needy children and youth.

If I were in the private sector, I would probably have fewer opportunities to help such patients.

The second reason for which I stay in the public sector is for the chance to manage interesting, complex cases, which I find intellectually stimulating.

It has to do with the thrill that comes from solving puzzles, which I have loved doing since I was young.

My perception is that one is more likely to come across such patients in the public sector.


The third reason is the opportunity to teach the next generation of health-care professionals.

In my school days, I liked my teachers and my teachers liked me (I think).

But the thought of being a teacher did not excite me and I totally dismissed the thought of being one.

Yet, for more than 15 years, I have been teaching medical students and junior doctors and, in recent times, nurses and allied health professionals.

Why the change?

I know that I am the kind of doctor I am today, in part because someone bothered to stop and teach me when I needed to be taught.

Doctoring cannot be learnt from books alone. Many of the skills are best learnt through observation, on-the-job training and being taught by another more experienced doctor.

Sir Issac Newton captured this well when he said: "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

When I was younger, my dream was to help and cure many patients.

But the reality is that doctors are limited in the number of patients we can help at any one time.

But if I teach our medical students and junior doctors well, and they each go on to help patients, my dream of helping many is vicariously fulfilled through them.

I teach for a selfish reason too.

There will come a time when I will need a good doctor, and when my children will need a good doctor and I will not be there for them.

To increase the odds of being able to enjoy excellent medical care in the future, I try to teach our juniors well.


Sept 6 was Teachers' Day. Many teachers had the day off. Medical school teachers did not have this luxury. My day was packed with a lecture, seeing patients and students, and attending meetings.

The junior doctors held a lunch celebration. I made it there for 10 minutes, grateful for the lunch and thrilled that I got to eat two of my favourite dishes.

The day finally ended and I reached home in time for dinner, grateful that it was the end to a long, hard week. I kissed my husband and my two children, and then the hospital mobile phone rang.

It was the newborn baby screening lab.

A baby had tested positive for a critical condition and would need immediate attention and treatment.

I went back to the hospital later that night. I saw the patient, started treatment, explained things to the parents, answered their questions and reassured them and their extended family.

I was finally done close to midnight. There I was waiting in line at the hospital's taxi stand.

Ahead of me was a younger doctor, a fellow doctor in my hospital.

I was not sure how long he had been waiting. There was no taxi. The wait continued.

When a cab finally came, the young man offered me the cab.

Oh no, I refused. He probably had a long day too.

He said: "Please do. Go ahead. Happy Teachers' Day."

I thanked him gratefully and took the cab home.

I was very touched by his generosity. What a wonderful Teacher's Day present.

Some days are more difficult and tiring than others.

But each day has its blessings and each night I give thanks for them.

I give thanks for a religion that gives me love, purpose, strength and consolation; a wonderful husband and our two lovely children; and my extended family, friends and colleagues.

Finally, I give thanks for a career which, by allowing me to help others, has brought me much fulfilment.

Associate Professor Denise Goh Li Meng is head and senior consultant at the division of paediatric genetics and metabolism at the National University Hospital. She runs a specialist clinical service for children with or at risk of genetic disorders. She is also the chairman of the NUHkids Fund, which provides financial aid to needy children and teenagers who require treatment.

Indulge for a good cause

Thirteen restaurants are participating in the Sweet Charity fund-raising campaign for the NUHkids Fund, which provides financial assistance to needy children and teenagers who need medical treatment and surgery.

This month, the participating restaurants will donate $5 from the sale of each of their designated desserts to the fund.

Sweet Charity aims to raise $100,000. For more information on the campaign and the fund, go to and