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Benjamin Sheares Professor in Academic Medicine


Professor Soo Khee Chee

Benjamin Sheares Professor in Academic Medicine
SingHealth Duke-NUS Oncology Academic Clinical Programme
Senior Advisor, Duke-NUS Medical School

Let’s Pay It Forward

It’s safe to say Professor Soo Khee Chee is no stranger to the medical fraternity in Singapore. Throughout his illustrious public healthcare career, Prof Soo has earned the respect of his peers and students as a visionary clinician-leader and an outstanding surgeon. He is a role model who has made pioneering contributions in research, education and surgical techniques.

The distinguished physician also made Academic Medicine practice in Singapore more structured by establishing the Duke-NUS Medical School and SingHealth’s Academic Clinical Programmes.

And not surprisingly, Prof Soo has picked up multiple national accolades over the years including the President’s Science and Technology Award (2011) and the National Day Award Public Administration Gold Medal (2003) and National Outstanding Mentor Award (2008).

Yet, when asked about the most defining moments in his Academic Medicine journey, Prof Soo zeroed in on the earliest days of his career, when he did training stints in Sydney, London and New York under the tutelage of feted surgeons Dr Bryan Yeo, Professor Gerald Westbury and Dr Elliot Strong respectively.

“I had been very blessed to have come under the mentorship of world-class surgeons who guided me in my career and provided me with opportunities [to grow]. All three of them had great patient-doctor relationships, intellectual depth and knowledge in their field and profound generosity in spirit,” says Prof Soo.

Individually, each mentor impressed upon Prof Soo in his own way as well, be it surgical precision, infectiousness in knowledge sharing and the courage to take on complex surgical cases without recklessness.

“When you have such good mentors, you pick up the best qualities from them respectively. I can never pay them back, but I can pay it forward. This is the spirit of Academic Medicine,” says Prof Soo.

For the love of education

Inspired by his mentors, Prof Soo has been an avid educator throughout his journey in medicine. He continues to teach weekly classes at Duke-NUS Medical School and Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at National University of Singapore even after relinquishing his position as Deputy Group Chief Executive of Research and Education at SingHealth in December 2017.

“What’s interesting to me is that the young minds are so open. It’s like switching on a light bulb in them,” says Prof Soo, adding, “It’s very stimulating to see them recollecting what they learned, synthesising the knowledge and applying it to their practice. And when you teach them how to think, you give them a lifelong skill.”

Bringing intellectual warriors into healthcare

Reflecting back on the early days of his career, Prof Soo comments that the SingHealth landscape has “changed dramatically” over the years. “It used to be an intellectual desert,” he jests.

By the setting-up of Duke-NUS Medical School in partnership with Duke Health, Prof Soo sought to bring up “philosopher kings” who can balance the institution’s strong clinical services with high-quality research to answer pressing questions in patient care.

“Back then, we knew that we had to change the culture to stand on the world stage. Without good research, we won’t be able to put Singapore on the map,” he says.

And indeed the world was watching. In March 2019, Newsweek ranked Singapore General Hospital the third best hospital in the world. “This was not by accident. It’s the research that got us the international recognition” says Prof Soo.

The next phase, he hopes, will focus on growing and retaining local talents in public healthcare. And what counts as talent? “To excel in Academic Medicine, you need passion not just for patient advocacy, but passion for excellence. You also need diligence and get the best training possible,” he says.

Excellence and its loop of possibilities

While Prof Soo has worn many hats in his illustrious career, it’s all “one and the same thing”; a successful Academic Medicine career leads from making it a point to achieve high competency in one’s field.

He explains: An outstanding professor needs to be a good clinician. With good clinical standing, you get to lead translational research teams. Time in academic medicine results in deep clinical insights. This in turn leads to more meaningful research.

But beyond all that, Prof Soo believes the multiple facets of Academic Medicine is what keeps it exciting for practitioners. “You have the opportunity to continually reinvent yourself, and shift your focus between research, education, administration and clinical work while maintaining a meaningful career. That’s the beauty of Academic Medicine,” he quips.