Issue 115 | Oct-Dec 2018

At Your Service

Dr Brian Chan (MD, Duke-NUS ‘17)

From running with the disabled to counselling sex workers, Dr Brian Chan (MD, Duke-NUS ‘17) has spent much of his life helping others around the world. Having taken an unusual path to a medical degree, he plans to continue exploring new ways of making a difference.

Dr Brian Chan currently works as a Medical Officer in the Department of Neurosurgery at the National Neuroscience Institute.

Like many who train to be doctors, Dr Brian Chan is passionate about saving lives. But unlike most people, he has committed himself to paying it forward to the next generation, even if he has to do things differently. “I wanted to become a doctor to serve others when they are at their most vulnerable,” he says. “And not just to save the people of today, but also to place myself in a position that enables me to enact change for the future and improve the lives of tomorrow’s patients.”

Dr Chan’s determination saw him through nine years of university. The 31 year-old first enrolled at NUS Science in 2008. After obtaining an Honours degree in Life Sciences, specialising in Biomedical Science, he decided to follow in his parents’ footsteps. His father, Associate Professor Edwin Chan, is Chief Scientific Officer at the Singapore Clinical Research Institute. His mother, Dr Jennifer Yeo, is a general practitioner.

Dr Chan enrolled in Duke-NUS Medical School in 2013. He graduated last July, and has just completed his first year as a physician with SingHealth. At the time of this interview, he has just begun a six-month posting in the Department of Neurosurgery at the National Neuroscience Institute. “This has been a long journey,” he admits. “I had always wanted to do medicine but did not get in as an undergrad. It has given me the time and space to really think about what I want to do with my life. My undergrad training established a strong interest in research and the basis of medicine which I might not have had time to appreciate otherwise. And now I am in a position to guide others who find themselves at similar crossroads.” Indeed, on the Duke-NUS website, you will find a helpful blog post from Dr Chan detailing seven things one needs to know when applying to the graduate medical school.

"I wanted to become a docter to serve others when they are at their most vulnerable."

Taking a different route has its advantages. Desiring to make use of this “second chance to make a real and tangible difference to the Duke-NUS community”, Dr Chan ran for and was elected class president four years in a row. “Duke-NUS is still a young school and growing in so many ways,” he says. “I wanted to be see Duke-NUS make an impact in the way medicine is practised in Singapore.”

A Spirit of Giving

Giving back lets Dr Chan combine his two loves: medicine and community work. A proud “true-blue ACSian of 12 years, from primary school to junior college”, Dr Chan says that community service became a key part of his life thanks to the exposure his school gave him.

It was during his junior college days that Dr Chan started going on overseas missions with his parents. “Most of my work has been with Crisis Relief Singapore, a Christian non-profit organisation. I have at times volunteered with other organisations as well including other churches and NGOs. I’ve been to Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, China, Tibet, Mongolia and Sri Lanka, to name a few.” Most of these trips are centred on medical care, he adds, as well as education and empowerment. These days, he still goes on trips with his family, organised by his church, to a fishing village in Batam.

Medical aid is just part of these trips — the chance to bring hope to underserved communities through working with other organisations is especially satisfying for Dr Chan. “One of my most memorable experiences was in Mongolia,” he shares. “We were partnering with the local arm of Campus Crusade for Christ to provide medical aid, education and counselling to the various military and prison installations. We were also involved with outreach activities to orphanages and commercial sex workers. Having the chance to work alongside an international team opened my eyes to what one can achieve through collaboration.”

This practice of serving the needy overseas continued during his years at Duke-NUS. “DOVE (Duke-NUS Overseas Volunteering Expedition) is one of our annual volunteer projects. It’s a joint effort between faculty, students and international partners. I participated as a first-year student and was inspired to return and lead the project in my third year. We work with NGOs in developing countries to enable sustained medical care and education. It’s an expedition that focuses on clinics and health education. There is extensive training for the students and they really take ownership of the project.”

His giving was not limited to overseas missions. During his medical school days, Dr Chan also volunteered with Runninghour, an inclusive running group of guides that provide support to disabled runners in Singapore. “Those were some of my fondest memories,” he says. “I used to run competitively during my college days and Runninghour was a great way to give back to the community and continue my love for running. We would serve as guides to mentally- and visually-challenged runners. Sadly, I have not been with them for some time now due to the demands of medicine.”

He has every intention of returning to volunteer work, when time allows. “I hope to get back in the game now that I’m done with housemanship and I’m looking into opportunities to serve communities and my school,” says Dr Chan, who has two sisters: a designer and a medical student.

A New Paradigm for Medicine

While specialising in a field of medicine is the norm, what Dr Chan is really keen on is the future of medicine. “Medicine is much more than just attending to patients. We would never progress if it were just that. The term ‘academic medicine’ refers to the combination of clinical practice, research and education to improve the care of patients. This is what most large medical centres, such as Duke-NUS/NUHS, work towards. To make medicine sustainable, you have to keep pushing boundaries — that’s research. And you need to impart knowledge — that’s education — to the next generation. And, of course, you have to provide excellent clinical care.”

He adds that these days, most doctors don’t just treat patients. “A clinician-scientist, for example, is a physician who treats patients but who also devotes time to research. He has the opportunity to bridge the gap between clinicians practising in the real world and scientists who are researching in the lab. With the patient as the focus, we take a problem back to the lab, figure out how to solve it and bring that solution back to the real world. He quips, “It’s easier said than done!”

Making things better for the next generation is a sign of appreciation to the previous generation, says Dr Chan. “The best way that we can say thank you to our family, friends, faculty, seniors, school and anyone who has blessed us, is to pay it forward to the next generation, whether that comes in the form of teaching, research, volunteering, financial contributions or counselling.”

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