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Benjamin Henry Sheares Professor in Obstetrics and Gynaecology

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Professor Tan Kok Hian

Benjamin Henry Sheares Professor in Obstetrics and Gynaecology
Obstetrics and Gynaecology Academic Clinical Programme 
Head and Senior Consultant, Perinatal Audit & Epidemiology Unit, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital
Senior Consultant, Department of Maternal Fetal Medicine, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital

Making a Better Healthcare System for All

“I like creating new things and maintaining them. But I find the former far more enjoyable!” says Professor Tan Kok Hian with a laugh.

His excitement is palpable, as he speaks of the precedents he’s set in local Academic Medicine, ranging from epidemiological and bench research to setting new clinical protocols, improving education and more.

Without a doubt, one of the biggest milestones of Prof Tan’s career was setting up the SingHealth Duke-NUS Obstetrics & Gynaecology Academic Clinical Programme (ACP), one of SingHealth’s first ACPs back in 2011. He was also the ACP’s founding chair.

Tasked with fortifying a clinical department with equally rigorous pillars of research and education, Prof Tan relished the process that was filled with vast possibilities.

After studying other academic health systems and with some advice, he instituted the new structure, defined new roles and appointed key personnel to secure the successful future of the ACP. “It was the first time we started on this journey, and I was most enthusiastic that we could now expand our roles,” he recalls.

And later on when he was appointed Group Director and Senior Associate Dean at the Joint Office of Academic Medicine, Prof Tan oversaw the rise of yet more ACPs, strategising with department heads and bringing plans to fruition. “There were important changes in culture and system that I was both influencing and witnessing first-hand. I was happy to have helped initiate, facilitate, systematise and provide the resources needed for us to practise Academic Medicine,” he says.


Better patient health through systemic changes

Prof Tan has been equally impactful in influencing the practice of perinatal care in Singapore. His advocacy efforts led to the adoption of universal gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) screening in all hospitals in Singapore, and he introduced the new evidence-based International Association of the Diabetes and Pregnancy Study Groups (IADPSG) criteria for GDM screening in 2016.

But it doesn’t end there. As the lead primary investigator for research network Integrated Platform for Research in Advancing Metabolic Health Outcomes in Women and Children (IPRAMHO), he rallied key perinatal opinion leaders from around the region to come together in January 2018 for the Asia Pacific Conference in Gestational Diabetes (now an annual event) where they exchanged practices and new information and reached a consensus on care or guidelines (in areas of Gestational Diabetes Screening, Perinatal Nutrition & Exercise in Pregnancy) .

In addition, he led a team at KKH to establish the protocol and system for crash (immediate) caesareans – for this best practice and efforts at reducing maternal & perinatal mortality, he and his perinatal team in KKH were awarded the World Health Organisation UAE Health Foundation Prize 2009 for making an outstanding contribution to health development.

The passionate specialist is also working hard to further reduce pregnancy complications from pre-eclampsia (hypertension in pregnancy) – in 2017, he led a study that brought to light predictive biomarkers.

His multi-faceted efforts all lead, he hopes, to a positive trickle-down effect. “We want to see improvement in trans-generational health. We need to sustain these systemic interventions for our mothers before, during and after pregnancy such that the babies delivered today can grow up to become healthy mothers in the future,” he explains.


Optimising patient safety and quality

Prof Tan’s multi-disciplinary work extends far and wide. He has been KKH Campus Director of Patient Safety & Quality. His current roles include being Group Director & Senior Associate Dean of the SingHealth Duke-NUS Institute for Patient Safety & Quality (IPSQ). In these capacities, he was notably able to initiate cross-institutional hand hygiene audits and to standardise a novel user-friendly environment hygiene index across all SingHealth institutions.

The multi-tasker is, at the same time, an expert advisory member of the WHO’s patient safety unit and the main consultant for Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Health in the development of their five-year (2020 to 2024) national policy and strategies for quality and patient safety and their roll-out plans.

In IPSQ, Prof Tan launched a full suite of training courses under the AM-EPIC (Academic Medicine – Enhancing Performance and Improving Care) Framework. He and his team even created a one-hour workshop called TeamSPEAK® that encourages staff of all levels to promptly speak up for safety (both physical and psychological) so as to deliver better and safer care for patients.


Hope for the future

As a pioneering leader in our Academic Medical Centre, Prof Tan envisions Singapore to be a leading light for regional counterparts in clinical service, research and education. “For example with the IPSQ, it is where healthcare professionals can gather, be trained and get accredited in patient safety,” he says.

To ensure a bright, sustainable future for Academic Medicine in Singapore, Prof Tan believes in the need for strong leadership and to duly spot and recognise young talents.

“We serve [in Academic Medicine] because we want to serve the public, and that needs to be an important parameter [for identifying outstanding future leaders]. Those with public service ethos should be recognised,” states Prof Tan firmly.

At the same time, he urges young doctors to be open to new ideas and skills to ensure they remain relevant in the long run, saying, “While inventing something useful, don’t forget to re-invent yourself for new challenges in this fast-changing world.”