MEDIA

Honourable And Meaningful Work

As someone who grew up paying more attention to sports and other activities that fascinate energetic young boys, Dr Lau Chee Chong never imagined that he would one day become an ENT specialist with a successful private practice.

However, his father firmly believed that being a physician was not only a worthy profession, but one that makes a direct and positive impact on many people, patients and non-patients alike. Due to his love and respect for his father, Dr Lau buckled down and focused on his studies, and that was the first step on the pathway that led him to the prestigious Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, where his practice, Ear Nose & Throat Centre CC Lau, is located.

Parental Pressure

"It was my father who wanted me to become a doctor," admits Dr Lau.

That was not a surprising position for the older Mr Lau to take. After all, he was a director of a medical supply company, with a lot of contacts with the medical profession. Dr Lau remembers him as a quintessential Chinese gentleman. "He would tell us, ‘Saving lives, healing people — it's honourable and meaningful work'," says Dr Lau. "It was his dream that all of his children would become doctors."

However, in his youth, Dr Lau did not display any sign that he was interested in the rigours of academic work that would lead to a career in medicine. "When I was a schoolboy, I never really thought about what I wanted to do when I was older. I was having too much fun being carefree — cycling around, discovering quarries and fishing ponds, flying kites and catching spiders. I looked ahead only to the next day, and then only to wonder whether it was going to rain," Dr Lau reminisces.

He also directed his energy towards the formal and organised structure of sports. "I represented my school in football, softball, swimming, badminton, ping-pong, athletics and volleyball," he reveals. "Not only did I enjoy all these activities, I was also very happy that I could miss a lot of classes with impunity!"

As the youngest of five children, Dr Lau felt duty-bound to fulfil his father's wish after his siblings decided that medicine was not their calling. "I became his last hope," Dr Lau says with a smile. "I loved my father very much. I must admit that my decision to concentrate on my schoolwork and try to get admitted into medicine in Singapore was largely to make him happy."

However, he is quick to add that he does not harbour any resentment at all. In fact, he feels that his father had chosen well for him. "What I didn't realise then was that, in pushing me towards medicine, my father had chosen exactly the right career for me," he surmises. "Being a doctor is everything he predicted. Saving lives and healing people is indeed honourable and meaningful work, which I look forward to every day. I cannot imagine any other job as satisfying. Thank you, Dad!"

What My Father Told Me
  • "The most valuable thing you have to offer your patients is your utmost honesty. Treat your patients the same way you would treat your own family. The only consideration is what is best for the patient."
  • "Your reputation and the trust of your patients and colleagues are your greatest assets."
  • "Know your work well. Also, know your limitations. Be committed to the continual updating and upgrading of your skills and knowledge. Medicine is constantly evolving and advancing, and you need to evolve and advance with it."
A Swashbackling Family

Dr Lau's words carry much weight precisely because his daughters do have the grades for medicine. He and Cynthia are the proud parents of Ysien, 19, and Ywen, 17. "They continue to amaze us with their excellent academic results." For the record, Ysien scored a perfect 45 in her International Baccalaureate last year.

It looks like Dr Lau's sporty genes have passed on to his daughters. The two young ladies have managed to do well academically even though they are heavily involved in the sport of fencing. Imagine having to hit the books in between 15 hours of training a week, not to mention regular overseas competitions and training camps. "The two girls have somehow always managed to keep up with their schoolwork," Dr Lau says with admiration in his voice. "I believe that the fencing commitments forced them to become disciplined and manage their time well. They are also very fortunate to have a dedicated and brilliant mother. Cynthia has helped them to manage and balance the academic and sporting demands in their lives." Both girls were called up to the national team when they were only 12. Ysien was the Asian Junior (U-20) bronze medallist in the Women's Foil in 2015 and a quarter-finalist in the Asian Youth Games. Ywen was 16 when she won Southeast Asia's first fencing World Championship title (for Women's Sabre Cadet (U-17)). In 2017, she was not only named Singapore's Sportsgirl of the Year, but she also won the gold medal in the women's individual sabre event at the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur.

Of the three weapons in fencing — foil, epee and sabre — Dr Lau's favourite is the sabre. Explaining his choice, he enthuses, "All fencing requires power and speed, but the fastest action tends to take place in sabre. You have to think and move fast; you need to be decisive and absolutely committed to your course of action. Sabre punishes the indecisive." With such dedication and incisive observation, it is no wonder Dr Lau is one of Singapore's most successful veteran fencers: he is a multiple gold medallist in the Men's Sabre Masters event in championships in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and a double bronze medallist at the Commonwealth Fencing Veteran Championships.

Completing Fencing Team Lau is Cynthia, who multitasks as videographer, team manager, travel agent, driver and head cheerleader!

Dr Lau came late into this "elegant and powerful sport", starting at the same time as Ysien did — 12 years ago — and was soon as enthusiastic about it as the girls. Dr Lau shares that this is what makes fencing special and meaningful to him: "I grew with the girls in the sport, developing skills together and encouraging each other. The best things about having a family sport rather than individual sporting preferences are the common interest we share and the amount of quality time we get to spend together." In the last 12 years, all family holidays were actually fencing trips — roaming the globe for competition, sparring and training opportunities. The Laus gave up much of their social life, and reduced time spent on other hobbies.

As the girls are becoming more independent, Dr Lau is rediscovering his love of other sports, including tennis with his colleagues, ping-pong sessions with Cynthia, scuba-diving and shotgun shooting, and is even considering taking up archery next. But he feels very grateful that being a dedicated fencing family made it possible for all of them to have such a precious, close-knit family life.

Chosen Speciality

So what attracted Dr Lau to specialise in the conditions of the ear, nose, throat, head and neck? He shares, "Otorhinolaryngology is a fascinating field, with a wide variety of conditions. We look after five ‘holes', which is quite a few more than most other specialists." He adds that he is intrigued by how the ears, nose, throat, head and neck all interact and affect each other and other parts of the body.

Furthermore, this speciality has both surgical and medical aspects. "I enjoy the challenges of surgery and like seeing the rapid results. On the other hand, I also like having a lot of interaction with my patients. So ENT gives me the best of both worlds."

One other factor that affected his choice was a higher chance to achieve work-life balance, as ENT has relatively fewer emergencies. "This means that my lifestyle outside of the clinic is less compromised," he adds. This does not mean that Dr Lau has his foot off the pedal. He believes it is critical to keep up to date with medical advances and technology. "I attend at least two major ENT conferences or congresses a year in order to upgrade my knowledge and skills. I also read a great deal of medical journals."

Although all this makes him sound like a serious man, Dr Lau can be a total goofball. "I love to laugh," he confesses. "Actually, having a bit of fun and laughter is an important part of my practice, thank goodness." He says humour helps to alleviate the patient's nerves and anxiety, especially among first-time patients. "I find that a bit of gentle humour really puts patients at ease. When they are relaxed, they are more cooperative for examination and procedures. They also open up and share more details with me, which helps me in my diagnosis and treatment planning." For young patients, this is even more important. "Sometimes, joking and playfulness make a recalcitrant child cooperative and distracts a distressed one. A little laughter also lightens any tension in the room and helps to calm anxious parents, which is crucial because children are affected by their parents' anxiety," he says.

Rewarding Career Choice

So what is it about being a doctor that is so rewarding?

To Dr Lau, one of the greatest privileges is being able to look after the health of his family members. He cites the example of his father and grandmother. "I noticed early symptoms of certain conditions; if they had not been diagnosed early, the consequences could have been very serious." In fact, his father and grandmother lived till the ripe old age of 88 and 106 respectively. "Both were alert and active to the end. I'm very grateful that I could look after them." Dr Lau's mother is an active 90-year-old who loves life and is still going strong. "Her continued good health is an achievement that I'm particularly proud of," he says.

Dr Lau's patients would be pleased and comforted to know that he considers them part of his family. "I like to ask myself, ‘What would I decide if this were my daughter or father or grandma or brother?' I think this is the best way to care for my patients as it provides the same level of satisfaction as healing someone who is part of my family," he explains. "It's a wonderful feeling to be able to heal. The greatest reward is a happy and healthy patient."

The payoff for being a physician is so high for Dr Lau that, if he could to do it all over again, he would choose to be in medicine once more. "I would even specialise in ENT again," he quips. However, when pressed for alternative career choices, he reveals, "If I were not a doctor, I think I would have enjoyed being an architect as I enjoy creating beautiful things. I also love to cook, so I think I would have enjoyed being a chef."

But would Dr Lau actively encourage his two daughters to pursue medicine as a career, following the example set by his father? Even though Dr Lau firmly believes, as his father did, that practising medicine is honourable and rewarding, he is able to set aside his pride and exercise some objectivity. "I don't think that medicine is for everyone, especially not just because someone has the grades for it." Dr Lau's wife, Cynthia, was a lawyer, but the couple are not pushing their daughters to study law either.

Dr Lau shares their philosophy: "We humans spend much of our lives working, so it's important that we find work that we really love and that can satisfy us intellectually and emotionally. We encourage our girls to choose their own paths and we are happy to support them if they need more time studying to find out what those paths are. The only requirement is that they strive to be the best at whatever they choose to be."

"Cynthia and I believe that it just isn't possible to spend too much time with your children. Really, we are very fortunate," he adds. It is obvious that Dr Lau has found the work-life balance that he had hoped for when he first started down the honourable and meaningful path that his father had wished for him.

Dr Lau Chee Chong Senior Consultant,
Ear Nose Throat, Head & Neck Surgery

Dr Lau Chee Chong at Mount Elizabeth Centre treats both adults and children. His practice covers all areas diagnostic, surgical and medical of ENT, head and neck practice. The clinic is well-equipped for almost all ENT procedures to be done in-clinic, including NBI (Narrow Band Imaging) video rhinolaryngoscopy, which gives very clear images and is particularly effective in identifying early-stage nose, head and neck cancers.

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