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Associate Professor Deidre De Silva didn’t have a clue she wanted to go into Academic Medicine. But as fate would have it, research made its way to her instead.
As a registrar, senior colleagues who wore multiple hats as clinicians, researchers and educators inducted her into research work. “They were my role models, and I thought at the time, when I grow up, I want to be like them,” she reminisced.
After following up with rigorous research fellowships in the Royal Melbourne Hospital in Australia and Georgetown University in the US, Assoc Prof De Silva’s knowledge and interest in academic neurology only grew exponentially.
Now the Academic Vice Chair of Clinical Services with the SingHealth Duke-NUS Neuroscience Academic Clinical Programme and Senior Consultant Neurologist at Singapore General Hospital, Assoc Prof De Silva’s pursuit of Academic Medicine is as fervent as her clinical efforts for hyper acute stroke patients.
“As a clinician, there’s the one-on-one care I give to a patient. Now with my current portfolio in Academic Medicine, I’m able to influence stroke care on a larger plane and introduce systems change that impact many more patients,” says Assoc Prof De Silva, who (among many things) also does research, mentors students from the Duke-NUS Medical School and chairs the Stroke Service Improvement team at the Ministry of Health.
“Given the size of our country, patients can get to the hospital within 20 minutes on suffering a stroke. By any measure, we should be able to provide the best care model for stroke in the acute phase,” she says of her aspiration.
When research translates to practice
A simple example that she raises brings home the importance of research for patient care. A Duke-NUS third-year-student had found that only 50 per cent of stroke patients are compliant with medication, and that with motivation, patients were seven times more likely to take their medicines.
“Now instead of encouraging them to get pill boxes, which we now know doesn’t help, we spend more time educating patients [about their medication],” Assoc Prof De Silva explains.
To those who are new to Academic Medicine, Assoc Prof De Silva’s work may seem like a superhuman juggling act between clinical work, research, mentoring and personal life. But she offers an alternative perspective.
“Academic Medicine is motivating and you get to widen your sphere of influence, effectively reaching patients, colleagues, administrators, students and more,” she says.
Seeing the big picture
Giving Assoc Prof De Silva a fresh burst of inspiration was the AM-ETHOS Academic Mentor Development Fellowship. Paired with Professor Daniel Laskowitz, Professor of Neurology at Duke Health, she took the opportunity to press pause and re-examine her priorities.
“It was a good step back to see where things were going. I had an open and generous mentor and we discussed what I wanted to achieve. It was a lot of self-discovery,” she shares, adding, “I realised I had my finger in too many pies. To make an impact, I had to focus.”
So focus she did. She started re-directing more energy to looking at clinical care systems change for stroke, taking more interest in higher-impact research and adjusting education programmes such as putting more emphasis on stroke simulation and inter-professional education.
Beacon of light
To help fellow colleagues forge a path forward in their own Academic Medicine career, Assoc Prof De Silva has put up a new Academic Mentor Development Fellowship for Clinician Investigators.
The Fellowship is intended for active clinicians who spend 20% to 50% of their time for “high-quality and productive research”. “We want to support and develop them in becoming even more successful,” she shares. On top of financial support, successful fellows will be paired with a mentor from Duke Health, granting them access to experts beyond the region.
As a mentor today to younger colleagues and students, Assoc Prof De Silva believes in empowering others to make their own decisions.
“I hope to be able to motivate junior colleagues to think more about Academic Medicine, especially now that there’s a better structure in place. There’s no better time than now to take up courses offered by the Academic Medical Centre and start creating a more impactful career,” she says.
Associate Professor Deidre De SilvaAcademic Vice Chair, Clinical, SingHealth Duke-NUS Neuroscience Academic Clinical ProgrammeHead & Senior Consultant, Department of Neurology, Singapore General Hospital and National Neuroscience Institute
Professor Daniel Laskowitz
Professor of Neurology, Duke Health