Inspiring teacher-student duo Dr Zhu Ling and Assoc Prof Kenny Sin.
Ask any surgeon what it takes to master the art of surgery and you would likely get the following – practice, lots of it. True enough, nothing beats cold hard experience accumulated over X number of surgical hours and hardships.
At the Residency in SingHealth Excels (RiSE) Awards 2022, Assoc Prof Kenny Sin, Deputy Medical Director (Clinical Service and Quality) and Senior Consultant, Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery (CTS) was awarded Outstanding Faculty for being in the top 5% faculty nominated by CTS residency programme, while Dr Zhu Ling who recently graduated and received her promotion to Associate Consultant, clinched Outstanding Resident for exceptional performance in clinical and academic avenues of CTS education.
CardioConnect speaks to our proud winners.
On the Teacher, Assoc Prof Kenny Sin
How long have you been in the CTS faculty?
I have been in the CTS faculty since its establishment. I was then Head, CTS and helped oversee the development of its Residency’s Programme. Subsequently, I took on the role of Chair, Residency Advisory Committee, in addition to teaching and mentoring residents.
What is your role as a CTS faculty and your typical routine like on a teaching day?
CTS Residency is an apprenticeship and involves mentoring as well as assessing the amount of responsibilities each trainee should be assigned with during the attachment. A key role of faculty, besides providing on-the-job training for residents, is to share our assessment and feedback with them regularly. With the resident being an integral part of the healthcare team and each patient journey becoming part of their learning journey, I would say the job has been made a little easier for us faulty members!
What has been the most challenging or memorable for you on this teaching journey so far?
Teaching surgical skills is a combination of guidance, positive and negative reinforcement, and repetition – besides imparting the know-how, it is important to allow students to have room to practice and make mistakes, and then guide them back onto the right track, with reinforcement of the right behaviour and attitudes.
What I find more challenging are imparting soft skills, especially that of judgement and communication. The curriculum emphasises on teaching the How to’s yet it is often only through hard learned lessons that one learns what or when not to do, what you have been trained to carry out. Judgement is often best learned through experience, and hopefully through others’ ‘learning moments’ rather than your own. I would say that from the resident’s point of view, their most memorable moments come from making mistakes in a controlled environment where there is no impact on patient outcome, and that lesson is forever seared into their conscious memory and hopefully also passed on to their future trainees when they take on their own teaching roles.
Conversely, what drives you to continue nurturing the residents?
Watching residents grow and develop confidence and skills, and hopefully surpass your own capabilities as a reflection of their learning and progress. One day, the teacher will become the patient, and that day sometimes may come sooner than you may wish!
Learning is a lifelong journey – As a teacher, what have you gained from your students?
Teaching residents requires a greater level of understanding and mastery of the art of surgery. The interactions with the residents sharpens the mind and the sword to a greater extent than it would have been possible with just being a mere surgical practitioner. I would have been a lesser surgeon if I were solely providing a clinical service without any requirements to teach. There is a common saying - those who can do, do; those who cannot, teach - I totally disagree and strongly believe that one must be able to “see one, do one, teach one” before you can consider yourself to be a complete surgeon.
On the Student, Dr Zhu Ling
Why did you choose CTS residency?
Cardiac surgery is complex and challenging, and for the same reasons, appealing and intriguing to me. When I first came to NHCS in 2014 as a medical officer, I was touched upon witnessing for the first time, the heart beating once again at the end of a coronary artery bypass surgery - that sense of achievement was beyond description. After that instance, I committed myself to a career in CTS.
What was residency life amidst the pandemic-endemic?
CTS residency, on a regular day, requires both physical and emotional stamina. The pandemic certainly made residency life more challenging as surgical training opportunities reduced significantly due to postponement of elective cases and diversion of medical resources. It was not easy adapting to the psychological stress that came along however I managed to overcome these ups and downs with a strategic approach. For instance, when there were fewer cases to scrub in (i.e. participate in surgery either by assisting the primary surgeon or doing part of the surgery under supervision), I spent more time reading and studying, and when the lock-down was slowly relaxed with resumption of more operations, I scrubbed in as much as possible to catch up on my surgical skills.
What was a typical day like for you as a CTS resident?
A typical day starts with an early morning round for pre-operative and post-operative patients in intensive care and general wards. The highlight of the day begins in the operation theatre around 9am and usually lasts till 6pm to 7pm. The day will end after review of inpatients and referral letters. There are also scheduled department teaching sessions, and protected residents’ teaching time every Saturday morning focusing on exam preparation.
What did you enjoy most about CTS residency?
I enjoyed the hyper-dynamic training as a resident, blended with ups and downs, and twists and turns. I believe that my perseverance in the goal to become a cardiac surgeon is the reason I have been able to overcome obstacles with unbeatable resilience! Part of this is also due to the strong support from programme faculty and peers, as well as my family and friends. The extra-curriculum programme provided by the Centre for Resident and Faculty Development (CRAFD) has also equipped me with the essential skills to survive the tough training.
When the going gets tough, how do you cope?
Talking to peers and consulting seniors have been useful in helping me tide through hardships. Programme Director, Asst Prof Victor Chao has been immensely supportive in terms of regularly reviewing our training progress, providing feedback and counselling when issue occurs, and most of all, constantly encouraging the residents and caring for our wellness. Assoc Prof Kenny Sin on the other hand, has been one of the most influential teachers in my residency journey. As a trainer, he not only imparts surgical skills but also teaches us how to develop a clear and straightforward surgical mindset. I hope I can be a sharp and decisive surgeon like him one day.
Work-aside, I swim before beginning my day, a habit formed during my training years. I find this routine helpful in maintaining good physical and moral fitness, and keeps me going strong.
Heartiest congratulations once again to Assoc Prof Kenny Sin and Dr Zhu Ling! When one teaches, two learn – true enough, our teacher and student duo showed us that teaching and learning go together, and teaching will always be a learning journey.