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Speech by 2M Tan See Leng at the Duke-NUS Virtual Graduation and Hooding Ceremony

Speech by 2M Tan See Leng at the Duke-NUS Virtual Graduation and Hooding Ceremony

Professor Tan Eng Chye, President of the National University of Singapore,
Chairman and members of the Duke-NUS Governing Board,
Professor Thomas Coffman, Dean of Duke-NUS,
Distinguished guests,
Graduands, parents, faculty, ladies and gentlemen,

1. I am delighted to join you today to witness this important milestone for the Class of 2021.

Highlights of the Class of 2021

2. As a doctor myself, I can empathize and understand very well the endless hours of sacrifice, angst, sweat, and tears that you must have all endured and shed to get to where you are today.

3. I know that every one of you here has completed the last two years under conditions few classes have ever faced previously as a result of this unprecedented pandemic – resulting in drastically reduced access to patients, clinics, wards, and even labs.

4. So, all the more, it is with my most heartfelt congratulations to all of you; the Class of 2021 for not only overcoming these challenges, but also emerging victorious!

5. Your journey today would also not have been possible without the support of many people around you. I would like to take this opportunity to recognise the unstinting support you received from your families, friends, and the faculty and staff of Duke-NUS Medical School, as well as the School’s Academic Medicine partner, SingHealth.

6. I have been told that the Class of 2021 is a diverse batch.

7. You all come from different backgrounds and bring different experiences, but you are united in your shared passion and calling for medicine.

8. I am also pleased to hear that we are celebrating the first graduate of the Duke-NUS’ Quantitative Biology and Medicine PhD programme, Mr Guan Peiyong.

a. Peiyong was a bioinformatics specialist at the Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) before joining Professor Teh Bin Tean’s group in the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS).

b. It was Professor Teh who encouraged Peiyong to pursue the PhD under him. After graduation, Peiyong will return to the Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) to work on therapeutics for rare and aggressive forms of kidney cancers.

9. As Professor Coffman previously mentioned, this programme is an invaluable catalyst to help fulfil our nation’s need for trained data scientists in the healthcare sector.

10. I am confident and hopeful that more will follow in Peiyong’s footsteps.

Innovation and Deep Tech in Healthcare 

11. Besides medical research, data science and other forms of deep technology can also bring about incredible benefits to numerous areas in healthcare and medical technology.

12. Accelerated by this pandemic, innovation in the medical technology sector spiked over the past year.

a. Take Dr Rena Dharmawan’s SwabBot™ for example.

i. Dr Rena is a consultant surgeon at the National Cancer Centre of Singapore, as well as a Clinical Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Centre for Technology & Development (CTeD) in Duke-NUS. 

ii. Last year, putting her training as a bioengineer and doctor to good use, Dr Rena spearheaded the first fully patient controlled Nasal Swab Robot — the SwabBot™.

iii. The SwabBot™ allowed our frontline healthcare workers to help with the swabbing process at a safe distance.

iv. This not only reduced the swabbers’ risk of exposure to the virus but also helped to improve patient experience. 

13. Deep technology like big data analytics, blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI) are also transforming the face of healthcare, especially in the areas of diagnostic precision and treatment modalities.

a. Big data helps medical experts analyse patterns in the genetic data of patient populations, allowing them to provide patients with more targeted treatment options, more precise forecasting of disease progression, and better disease risk prediction.

b. Blockchain technology can also be the solution to prevailing data issues in the healthcare industry, by providing hospitals and clinics with faster access to trusted information, and enabling secure and integrated patient data sharing . This will reduce delays and potential inconveniences especially when patients visit different hospitals and clinics.

c. The application of AI in the health analytics of data derived from digital devices could also lead to great innovations in personalised healthcare for everyone.

14. In fact, according to the 2021 Personalised Healthcare Index for Asia-Pacific by Roche, Singapore is the regional leader in personalised healthcare readiness.

a. Personalised healthcare, like precision oncology, leverages insights from medical and genomic data to help make more precise treatment decisions for patients based on their individual clinical profile.

b. This type of individually-tailored healthcare can bring about numerous benefits to patients, even perhaps, someday allowing certain cancers to be relegated to a chronic disease.

c. Through our extensive use of AI, Singapore is paving the way towards a data-driven and patient-centric model that could transform healthcare delivery for everyone.

15. The continuous innovation in healthcare services and systems is only possible because of the creativity and perseverance of medical professionals, like yourselves. I am optimistic and hopeful that some of you here will go on and expand the depth and breadth of our ecosystem of research and innovation in healthcare. Not only in the clinical treatment, but also in prediction, pre-emption and early customised intervention to improve clinical outcomes for patients everywhere. 

16. I am delighted to hear that earlier this year, Duke-NUS launched a Graduate Certificate Programme in Health Services Innovation, which I hear has been in the works for some time.

17. This certificate aims to equip clinicians with the desire and potential to innovate patient-care, with the necessary skillsets to bring about the change they aspire.

18. At the core of the evidence based practice premised on scientific principles, I still hold on to the belief that medicine is an art!

19. And it is through constant medical innovation, that we can continue to find new ways to heal and sustain the beautiful masterpiece of art that is the human body.

20. I hope that as all of you continue to transform the face of medicine in Singapore, your research and innovations will have far reaching impact on improving the lives of Singaporeans. However, we must never forget to address and balance the inequities of healthcare treatment options to our less fortunate and lower income fellow citizens.

a.  Inequity in healthcare is a growing concern in Singapore as the costs of healthcare treatment continue to grow and in increasingly steeper gradients.

b. Hence, I hope that your research and innovation to not just break the ceiling of technological advancement, but to also improve efficiencies and access to the care and support of the lower income segments and the population at large  who may need it more but have difficulty accessing it.

The Path Less Travelled

21. As you would have all come to realise at this point, most of what I have talked about today doesn’t really fit into the typical career trajectories of most medical graduates.

22. Most medical graduates, like many of you today will choose to become specialists and/or experts in their respective clinical disciplines.

23. However, I would like to beg your indulgence to allow me to share a bit about my own path. Idecided to become a family physician after seeing how GPs have this special abilities in touching and healing members in the community and more importantly in caring for extended families across generations in a meaningful way. , I witnessed the need to integrate the care and outreach as many extended families live across the island. I then became a medical  entrepreneur  by developing and growing the business of providing primary care in an integrated manner across the country.

24. Fortunately, I was in a relatively white space where there were significant opportunities both in the HDB heartlands as well as the newly expanding industrial areas in Tuas, Kaki Bukit and Changi. I was able to ride on the business friendly policies of the government in the nineties; notwithstanding the fact that funding opportunities in the venture capital and private equity space were relatively nascent then.

a. The group my partners and I founded; Healthway Medical Group did well in the private sector; in spite of the lack of funding and help schemes. This is in contrast to the vast number of government initiated schemes we have available today.

b. After growing rapidly and successful divesting the group, I went to business school when I was in my late thirties and became a corporate executive in the tertiary hospital space upon graduation. Leveraging on the solid Singapore brand name, we were able to grow and expand the healthcare service delivery franchise regionally again riding on the huge growth trajectories of emerging markets’ needs for good tertiary healthcare in the region.

25. When the opportunity came last year in the form of an invitation to join politics and contribute my services to the nation, I decided to accept and answer the calling to serve.

26. My path has been one that is less travelled for my classmates and colleagues, but I have absolutely no regrets.

27. Similarly, I hope to encourage all the graduates here to open your minds to the myriad of opportunities that the world of healthcare can bring.

28. In my earnest desire, you should continue to cultivate interests beyond the field of medicine, and extend beyond your immediate community of family and friends. 

29. I hope that you find ways to give back to the larger community. Be it through, volunteering, working in NGOs, or even joining your medical fraternities; the Chapters under the Academy of Medicine, the Singapore Medical Association, and for those pursuing a career in family medicine, the college of Family Physicians, etc. Share your experiences and contribute actively to teaching and mentoring future generations of doctors so as to enrich the lives of others.

30. Steve Jobs talked about connecting the dots. You can only connect the dots after you have seen the dots. Today, you are at the beginning of charting your dots; that of a life long calling, a career of commitment and conviction. I hope that years later, you will all look back and remember, that this is the moment it all started. Your family, your loved ones, your friends, your classmates, your teachers and your Alma Mater. Never forget them and look back always, with the same sense of wonder, curiosity, amazement, gratitude and humility.


31. As you embark on different pathways after graduation, I am confident you will continue to value-add to academia and medical community as many Duke-NUS alumni have done before you.

32. This has, and will continue to be, a differentiating and distinguished trait of graduates from Duke-NUS.

33. Before I end, I would just like to share something that I learned in my early days as a young doctor, and that has remained true to this day.

a. In the decades past, doctors cured seldom, relief often, and comfort always.

b. Therefore, I hope that all of our doctors today will always bear in mind that the comfort of your patients should, and always be a constant.

34. With that, let me congratulate the Class of 2021 once again on your graduation. 

35. I wish that you will find as much happiness and fulfillment in your careers as I did in my many years as a family doctor, a medical entrepreneur, a medical corporate executive and a public servant. 

36. Thank you.

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