While the first day of work is usually a tough one for many, for Dr Jason Goh, it was one he will never forget. The 24-year-old alumnus from the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine had the most difficult start any doctor could possibly experience.
“I felt both shocked and helpless as I watched my first patient pass away in the first hour of my first day at work,” he recalled pensively.
The elderly patient had a heart attack and could not be revived despite the best efforts of the medical team. Jason was affected for days after the incident.
He said: “I felt like a failure because we did not manage to keep him alive. Although he was already in a bad condition, you always feel you could have done more.”
The turning point was when a Senior Resident in Orthopedic Surgery pulled him aside to share personal experiences of his previous failures and how he bounced back from it. “I was both amazed and grateful for the support I received from my seniors. While it was just a short pep talk over coffee with him, it did wonders for me.”
For Jason, having a support group and participating in activities outside of coursework were very important during his years as a medical student.
“There will be times when you encounter failures or disappointments, so it is important to have a support group to pick you up when you are down,” he explained. Also, “enjoy your time, have hobbies, do things that make you want to go back to school”, he added. “Whether it was community work, sports, or research projects, I had my own enjoyment.”
These pleasures helped Jason maintain his perspective on life.
One essential thing he felt that NUS imparted to its medical students was the training of the mind through research.
“I learned the value of having academic rigour when you read scientific articles. I published several research papers and wanted to contribute to the scientific world,” said Jason.
And that seemed to be the culture of the entire faculty.
“At NUS, not only do we have the inner drive to do well for all our exams, we want to contribute for posterity, to leave something behind.”
“I would encourage both prospective and current medical students to take part in research projects, because it really trains the mind: How you think, the certain way you write the project, the sense of ethics that you have to follow, to make sure your results are repeatable,” he said.
When asked about the important attributes of being a doctor, Jason felt that good communications skill is paramount. When interacting with people from all walks of life at work, he was thankful that his training at NUS Medicine placed a huge emphasis on communication and how to handle patients and their families in a professional and empathetic manner.
Today, he is rotating as a House officer at National University Hospital’s General Surgery team. Jason’s communication skills are being tested daily, especially on days where he is on call.
Being the only point of contact during those hours on call, he had to learn how to prioritise cases by asking a few critical questions and reviewing patients’ vital parameters. He explained: “You can learn about a patient’s general health, whether his life was in danger, with the right questions. That helps me make good decisions and decide which patients I have to review urgently.”
More importantly, he learned how impactful words can be, especially when it came to delivering bad news to families. Said Jason: “What I say in that brief minute will remain with them for the rest of their lives, and that is why I try to break the news in the most gentle manner possible, even on a really busy call.”
The highlight of Jason’s student life came when he pioneered the Community Health Service – a free health screening programme to reach out to residents in the lower income group of Kampong Glam.
The regular health screening drives organised by NUS had inculcated a sense of giving back to the community. This inspired Jason and his friends to start their own initiative, where they brought together nurses and students from NUS’ Faculty of Dentistry to help the underprivileged.
While the poor are mostly covered under Government health provisions, they did not have basic health education, and only went to the hospital when their condition turned really bad.
Jason and his group reached out to some 200 elderly residents to perform basic health screening, taking the opportunity also to give out referral letters to residents who needed further care at hospital facilities, and giving them brochures educating them about diabetes, hypertension and illnesses that most were unaware of until it was too late.
While Jason has dreams of specialising in Orthopedics or Hand Surgery, he is keeping his options open to general health care after seeing the impact he has made through the Community Health Service.
“It is a privilege to be in a position where no matter what you do, you are always helping someone.”