Service above self

30 April 2015 | Community
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From right: Dr Tan with Healthserve founder Dr Goh who are both winners in the Honourable Mention category of the Healthcare Humanity Awards

Dr Tan Lai Yong, Resident Fellow at the College of Alice & Peter Tan (CAPT) at NUS, has been volunteering with Healthserve since 2011 and mentoring young Singaporeans since 2012. His selfless service to the community was lauded at this year's Healthcare Humanity Awards in a ceremony held on 27 April.

Dr Tan was among six individuals who won in the Honourable Mention category of the Healthcare Humanity Awards, an annual event that started after the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak to recognise exceptional healthcare workers for their courage and dedication in caring for the sick. Other winners included Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Adjunct Associate Professor Lim Sok Bee, and NUS Medicine Adjunct Assistant Professor Dr Goh Wei Leong who is also the founder and Chairman of HealthServe.

At Healthserve, a community clinic for migrant workers, Dr Tan volunteers by giving low-cost medical treatment and counselling to foreign workers from Bangladesh, India and China. He also helps organise outings and events such as Father's Day celebration for them. 

Dr Tan's wife and two teenage children participate regularly in Healthserve activities while his team at CAPT volunteer in community engagement programmes. Other youth volunteers from NUS, schools and churches also join in games such as soccer, volleyball and sepak takraw at the workers' dormitories.

Dr Tan felt honoured by the award but downplayed his efforts by sharing the accolade with his NUS colleagues, students and the Healthserve team. He said: "This award is an affirmation to the visionaries in NUS, not me, who are moving the curriculum to include GEMs (General Education Modules).

In 2012, he was part of a team of doctors who developed the "Healthcare for the Underserved" module for medical students under School of Medicine's Family Medicine, and also initiated the course "Hidden Communities of Singapore" at CAPT, a GEM encouraging experiential learning about marginalised communities in Singapore.

To Dr Tan, teaching the course helps instil in his students the awareness that there exists a group of people such as migrant workers, who are often ignored by society. His students typically overcome their initial stereotypical ideas of migrant workers after interaction, and develop a healthy respect for them. The undergraduates realise that the workers are just normal individuals who harbour hopes of providing better lives for their families back home by coming to Singapore.

Back in 1996, the medically trained Dr Tan uprooted himself with his accountant wife and then one-year-old daughter to spend 15 years in the mountainous regions of Yunnan, China. During his long stay in the impoverished region, he cared for the poor and diseased in remote villages, as well as trained 500 local doctors. In 2010, he returned to Singapore where he pursued his master's degree in public administration at NUS' Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, and joined CAPT in 2012.

Ultimately, Dr Tan feels that he owes his empathetic outlook to her mother. "I learn many things from her about caring for others, he said.

Dr Tan receiving his award from Singapore President Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam

Dr Tan receiving his award from Singapore President Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam