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Academic Vice Chair of Research at SingHealth Duke-NUS Paediatrics Academic Clinical Programme, Associate Professor Derrick Chan firmly believes Academic Medicine is key to finding new yet tangible ways to improve the quality of care for patients “It’s not just an abstract goal. You take clinical problems that are meaningful to patients and use innovative, novel ways to solve them,” he says.
This was a view he took even as a young doctor, when he constantly sought to answer the simple question, “What’s a better way of doing things?”
It was a conundrum he found hard to ignore because of his work running the epilepsy clinic at the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital. The paediatric neurologist was often asked by caregivers how they could identify if a child was having a seizure. “This was a problem they faced during bedtime, especially they don’t share a room with the child,” Assoc Prof Chan says.
Set on making life easier for his young vulnerable patients and their parents, Assoc Prof Chan delved into the world of med-tech to find a solution. (He ended up developing a video analytics device for detecting night time seizures.)
And in the process of engaging in multi-disciplinary work, Assoc Prof Chan had a bigger epiphany that has shaped his Academic Medicine career. “There’s the realisation that you need to change the system, and create an environment that fosters research,” says Assoc Prof Chan, who has since published important papers in epilepsy, electroencephalography and paediatric neurology.
The early days of pursuing a career in research were fraught with difficulties. “Naturally, there was resistance to new ideas at the time, resources were limited and it was harder to find collaborators,” he shares, “But things are much better now with a more established Academic Medicine culture.”
Seeing beyond Singapore
The AM-ETHOS Academic Mentor Development Fellowship was an opportunity for Assoc Prof Chan to “develop a wider world view” and “see beyond local culture”. He was paired with Professor Ann Reed, the Chair of the Paediatric Department at Duke Health.
The immersive experience left him with sharpened aspirations for his work, the first being shifting the culture and putting more emphasis on research infrastructure that facilitates the practice of Academic Medicine. “It’s not just about hiring more people. We need a system that doesn’t tie us up in knots, that enables the vital research work” he says.
The second is to continue to shift the mindset of research to be more structured and planned and to “really be intertwined with clinical work,” Assoc Prof Chan says.
Nurturing the next generation
The third big item on Assoc Prof Chan’s long-term to-do list is to make the Academic Medicine journey smoother for the next generation of doctors. This is why he has been working on the Clinician Innovator Development Programme (CINDP), which will help provide guidance, recognition and mentorship for passionate Clinician Innovators.
The programme is designed to help drive and recognise these driven individuals along the track of device innovation geared towards frontline clinical care, and is a channel for meaningful exchanges with relevant experts from Duke Health, he explains.
In addition, Assoc Prof Chan regularly mentors younger colleagues on research ideas, grant writing and career planning.
He would know, having walked that road himself to forge a dual-career as a clinician and researcher. His top tip on creating that seemingly elusive balance: “Target your questions towards clinical problems you are passionate about, so you can combine your day-to-day work with research. This way, it won’t feel like two separate work spheres.”