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My interest in healthcare started because of my siblings, both of whom have special needs. Growing up with them was very challenging for my whole family; I remember times where my sister would cry late into the night, unable to explain why she was sad, and how my parents would quarrel over whether to comfort her or to scold her into silence, for the sake of not disturbing the neighbours. I remember my brother singlehandedly being hospitalised more often than the rest of the family combined, and how my parents often worried about his health, education and future. I saw my siblings as liabilities and resented them because of the constant strain that it put on my parents.
However, my viewpoint changed as I grew older. Through a mix of my Christian faith and seeing my parents willingly sacrificing for the sake of us children, I learned to see my siblings as vulnerable people who, through no fault of their own, couldn’t fully care for or protect themselves. I therefore felt strongly that it was my responsibility to provide that care for them. By extension, I also developed an interest in helping others whose lives were impacted by their health conditions.
My decision to apply for medicine was solidified when I was serving national service. My wife (girlfriend at that point) had just gotten into medical school, and I was fascinated by the things she was learning. From the scientific point of view, I was amazed at how different organ systems were connected and worked together, and how even the tiniest errors at the cellular level could make such a difference in someone’s health. I was also impressed by the communication skills being taught; how to seamlessly weave both knowledge and empathy into an empowering yet reassuring experience for patients. With a lot of encouragement from my wife, I applied for medical school, and here I am now!
Academics aside, my time in medical school has been really fun and memorable. Some of the highlights include singing in various acapella groups, serving in a variety of Community Involvement Projects, participating in multiple student initiated peer-teaching programmes, and of course learning from real patients and healthcare professionals in the hospitals and polyclinics all around the country. It’s also been wonderful getting to know my fellow doctors-in-training, who inspire me to work harder and improve myself for the sake of our future patients.
In the future, I’m keen to specialise in emergency medicine, for a variety of reasons. I like the fast pace and intensity of the work, and the breadth of knowledge it demands. I also think that emergency medicine physicians are really good at prioritising resources, making decisions and communicating clearly despite the time pressures and inherent uncertainty in their working environment. These are skills that I think are crucial and cross-applicable, whether on the ground as a clinician, or at a macroscopic policy level, and hence emergency medicine is one way through which I hope to develop these skills further.
To anyone out there who shies away from medicine (or healthcare in general!) because of the heavy responsibility over people’s health and lives, I understand. I had that fear too. However, my perspective changed after my dad shared this insight with me: everyone holds responsibility for others’ lives. Whether it’s an engineer designing a safe building, a father providing for his family, or a policymaker helping to shape the future of Singapore, the importance is the same for the people relying on them. The main difference is that medicine is a field in which you get to see the impact you have, up close and personal.
On the other hand, if you’re already keen to apply for medicine, do think through that decision carefully! Being a doctor is often tiring and stressful and difficult in all sorts of ways. You really need to gain satisfaction from serving, and you should be in this for the sake of your patients, because it’s easy to feel burnt out and discouraged. However, if you’re certain that this is the way that you want to serve others, I can also promise that it’s a really fulfilling career pathway, because you’re in a position to give hope and comfort directly to people who need it. It truly is a wonderful privilege!
Picture of Andrew's family (from left to right): Sister, Mother, Grandmother, Brother, Andrew (2nd row), Andrew's Wife, Father.
Story adapted from Facebook.