Beyond medicine, beyond the patient

Dr Yvonne Chia May Fen, alumna of Duke-NUS Medical School went beyond her call of duty when caring for a patient fighting for his life with COVID-19.

Dr Yvonne Chia
Dr Yvonne Chia, as an MD student in Duke-NUS Medical School

Dr Yvonne Chia May Fen worked within the white and still walls of the ICU, among the deep beeps of bedside monitors. She kept a faithful vigil and an eagle-eyed focus on her critically-ill patient, a patient clinging to life. While caring for the patient, Dr Chia took it upon herself to extend compassion and kindness to his family. She empathised with their sentiments and worries, about the man they termed husband and father, he was a loved family man.

For the 27 days that her patient was fighting for his life with COVID-19, Dr Chia, alumna of Duke-NUS Medical School from the Class of 2017 and Medical Officer at the Singapore General Hospital’s Department of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, updated the patient’s daughter every single day to provide detailed updates of his condition.

When asked why she went above her call of duty to do what she did, Dr Chia, simply said, “In view of the COVID-19 situation and strict infection control policies in the hospitals, family members were not allowed to visit patients with COVID-19 except under exceptional basis. Knowing that their loved one was critically ill in ICU but yet not being able to visit and be by his side, I could only imagine the anxiety and distress they were going through. This is why I tried to do my part by updating them on his condition regularly, and in great detail, hoping that they could visualise how he was coping through my words.”

From her experience treating and caring for the late Mr Chung, one personal lesson that she took away is to always remember to include the family of patients in her considerations. “Often, we are too focused on treating the patient in front of us that we may tend to neglect the feelings of the family members. We often forget that our patients’ suffering and experiences can have a profound impact on their loved ones. Usually the entire family plays a critical role in supporting our patients through their tough and challenging journeys in intensive care. The cruelty of COVID-19 is that even this small comfort has been denied,” she said.

Professor Ian Curran, Vice Dean of Education at Duke-NUS, said, “We are sorry that Yvonne’s patient did not pull through but we are really proud of how she stepped up, and demonstrated the key qualities and values of a Duke-NUS student, and managed the difficult situation, in such a compassionate way. Yvonne embodies the capabilities and values we seek to instill in all Duke-NUS graduates, -- those of kindness, humanity and compassion, with a strong ethical, personal, and professional identity.”

Dr Chia chose to pursue medicine in Duke-NUS after her first degree in pharmacy because she wanted to gain important skills in medical research that could help improve the lives of her patients. Upon graduating, she chose internal medicine as she enjoys the emphasis on patient relationships, and learning more about the holistic care of patients.

Prof Curran added that Dr Chia’s time at Duke-NUS inevitably played a role in preparing her for her current clinical challenges. “Duke-NUS' unique approach to learning, emphasising active learning, teamwork and critical thinking, all of which are invaluable qualities in a clinician, prepared her. The educational system at Duke-NUS focuses not only on acquiring medical knowledge but also on nurturing outstanding clinicians who are clinically capable, and will have a transforming impact on Singapore’s healthcare system. Yvonne’s compassion and outstanding professional behaviour exemplify all that we would expect in a Duke-NUS graduate.”

Senior Associate Dean of MD Programmes at Duke-NUS, Prof Lim Soon Thye, added, “Of all the things that the family of the deceased will remember is not the science and medicine, but the interactions with Yvonne who has brought comfort and closure to them in these trying times.”

With the evolving healthcare challenges and the added pressures of the COVID-19 situation, it is more important than ever to have committed and compassionate clinicians, like Dr Chia. 

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