Present Issue 
Past Issues 

Present Issue 
Past Issues 

SMA Editorial Board 

Letters to the Editor 


 may98.jpg (4709 bytes)  

This site is supported by Health ONE

forum.jpg (7285 bytes)

A Physician's Dream

Welcome speech by the President at the SMA Annual Dinner 25th April 1998.

The Guest-of-Honour, Second Permanent Secretary of Health, Mr Moses Lee and Mrs Lee, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to begin the night by telling you a story about a dream.

This dream could have occurred 2000 years ago in the Greek Island of Kos. Or it could have occurred yesterday in Singapore. The setting is immaterial as the theme is timeless. This dream is about the eternal tussle between money and manna, between that of commerce and a calling in medicine. The medical profession has faced it during Hippocrate’s time and is still confronting it today.

A dream occurred to some doctors here in Singapore in the past weeks. It was a dream that the medical profession has finally stood up to. This dream is about ‘The Last Whistle’.

When peer pressure fails
What remains
The letter of the Law
The rhetoric of Ethics
And the whistle from our hearts

We whistled loud
We fought on
Is our cause forlorn?
Is our calling now drowned
By the clang of the cash registers

But now, the fast whistle
Has reverberated
Through HDB and regal corridors
The Albatross now hangs
On our necks and more

Should we all bother
When doctors can only prosper
By trading patients like fodder
And whistle blowers should beware
Pounds of flesh prepare

Will this last whistle
Be the clarion of a new bidding
Of the knell of medicine’s calling
Will this whistle
Be the last of our pleading

We all have had dreams of a calling. Some of us dreamt that we could be Albert Schweitzer saving bodies and souls in Africa. Others were inspired by AJ Cronin’s Dr Shannon who overcame all odds to become a doctor and then spent his life fighting for the downtrodden slaving away in the coal mines. One woman a year my senior in medical school, realised those dreams. She spent years stitching back limbs and flesh mangled by the savage wars in the Middle East and lived to write a book about it.

In last year’s SMA lecture ‘In Search of Future Role Models in Medicine’, Dr Wong Heck Sing highlighted others who lived out their calling as teachers, leaders and physicians exemplar. We are here tonight to honour two of such colleagues as Honorary SMA members. They have lived their lives true to their calling and have brought honour not only to the profession but to our nation as well.

We who are lesser mortals can also aspire to be like them. Doctors providing yeomen services in the public sector, private specialists providing sterling service to our patients and to those from neighbouring countries and GPs serving quietly in HDB heartland, they too are living out their calling.

Why then do we allow a few black sheep which arose in the past years to belittle our dreams? Why do we allow these doctors to put themselves up as role models for our younger doctors who may know no other way? If the medical profession continues to remain silent, then younger doctors would not know the black from the white. They would soon not know what ethical values to hold sacred in an increasingly commercialised world.

To the few doctors who persist in championing medicine as mere business and money, I have this message. Money cannot buy dreams. Money cannot stop dreams. Most of all, lawyers cannot stop dreams.

Doctors have since time immemorial faced the onerous task of balancing conflicting roles as saint, scientist and shopkeeper. Few of us can be sanctified. But neither would we want to be banal shopkeepers. If we allow a few doctors to besmirch the reputation of the profession by exploiting public trust, then the soul of the doctor in all of us dies.

Six months ago, at the inaugural SMA Ethics Convention, I bemoaned the increasing onslaught of commercialisation on medicine and implored that we should all stand up for something. Or we fall for everything. Two weeks ago, the SMA stood up. The Singapore Medical Council and the Government stood up in unison.