Caring without Limits
- from Dr Chua Ying Xian, Preventive Medicine resident
"You want to go see where I sleep? No toilet here, you follow me!"
My arms were held firmly by a prison guard and a fellow inmate, both of whom were at least one and a half times my size, with biceps larger than my legs. One could see their weather-beaten torsos glistening in sweat under the summer heat as they escorted me to their cell, where the only toilet in the prison is located - in their sleeping quarters. There were more than 25 inmates were hustled together in a space equivalent to a standard kitchen back in Singapore.
In 2011, I was part of a medical team who went to a small county in Lebanon, which was a first ever attempt to provide free medical aid and consults for prisoners at a local prison. It was indeed a life-transforming moment. I saw inmates having chronic medical and surgical issues ranging from chronic osteomyelitis of the spine due to a gunshot injury following a shootout, to poorly controlled diabetes and loss of vision from cataracts. I was even asked to treat an acute forearm fracture following a fall using a splint derived from ice-cream sticks. That day, we saw more than a hundred prisoners under the scorching sun.
During medical school days, I have had the privilege of leading teams comprising of doctors and medical students to rural areas of Yunnan. Since 2002, we have been liaising with Dr Tan Lai Yong, a familiar face in the medical mission field of southern China, to execute micro-economic projects and health-screening exercises as well as to visit the lepers in the rural mountains. In December 2011, I co-led a team of 32 to rural Chennai, India. We visited the marginalized communities, ran mobile clinics, and performed disease screening and community education. We also constructed a sanitary facility to improve the hygiene standards and reduce preventable diseases like gastroenteritis. A humbling moment included a visit to a HIV-positive shelter home for children - a sanctuary for the inflicted innocent in the midst of the rising epidemic of a cureless disease.
All these experiences helped me to realize how privileged we are in Singapore, practising medicine in the comfort of a hospital, with amenities just an arm’s length away. It has allowed me to appreciate what we have here on a greater level and has taught me to do more with less. The passion that drives physicians to constantly improve should always be patient-centred, performed with humility, while honouring and respecting the needy. My love for medicine has deepened and medicine, with its many facets - love, compassion, humility and honour, is indeed a wonderful profession.
The values and learning points from the experiences are much in line with what NUHS Residency is about. Going forward, I am grateful for the opportunity to share these experiences with my juniors that come on board.
The Batam Medical Outreach
Batam is an
island in the
Indonesian Riau Archipelago,
about an hour’s ferry ride from Singapore. In this
apparently prosperous island , there are many who have
slipped through the cracks
and live in relative poverty in the villages scattered throughout the
island, unable to afford basic health-care. This need was recognized and this
medical mission was established in September 2006 to provide free primary
healthcare in these rural villages. We currently serve about 20 villages and
rotate through them in turn.
began with limited aims but has since grown. We now run 8 to
10 missions a
year. The mission extends
over a weekend, but
for those unable to afford an entire weekend, day-trips are possible.
Each mis-sion group consists
of 4 teams
with a total
of 100 volunteers. Each team will serve a different village, making a total of 4 locations served on each trip. Volunteers comprise both medical
as well as non-medical persons (in fact more than half the team is
non-medical!). We treat on average anywhere between 900—1500 patients on each
While the chief function of each team is to provide primary healthcare, we
also have nurses providing health education (in topics such as nutrition,
hygiene, maternal & child
health, dental care
etc), organizing children’s
activities (as more than
half the attendees
at these clinics
are children) and
distributing food & clothes. Volunteers assigned to organizing
children’s activities are given instruction
in balloon sculpting
(balloon animals are
a big hit with
the kids). All
attendees to the clinics are given, amongst other things, Fuji apples.
mission is self-sustaining (our
medications & equipment
are paid for by
donations), volunteers pay their own way. The cost per person is $100 (for
those staying over the weekend) & $80 for day-trippers. This cost includes
ferry tickets, all meals, internal transport, hotel accommodation (for those
staying over), travel insurance and a specially designed mission polo T-shirt.
We leave early on the Saturday morning and return Saturday evening (if coming
as a day-tripper) or Sunday afternoon if you’re staying over.
The dates of the
missions in 2012 are : 15-16 Jan, 17-18 Mar, 19-20 May, 14-15 July, 1-2 Sep
& 24-25 Nov
Do sign up.
We are always
in need of doctors
(we need at least 10 doctors per trip) & nurses.
No medical mission ex-perience is required.
Medical students are
encouraged to participate as
well. You may
bring your families
and age is not an issue (our volunteer ages have
ranged from 6 to 70!). This mission has
improved the lives
of many families
in these rural villages
and it offers
you, as a
healthcare pro-vider in
NUH, the opportunity
to make a
significant difference in
another person’s life.
Remember that the
“C” in TRICE stands for
For further information and to sign up, please email A/Prof Joseph
Thambiah at email@example.com