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What 2 Frontline Doctors Wish You Knew

“I have always felt and said that I am not scared of dying. As such, I must act in accordance with this faith.”

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2 doctors share their experiences dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic.

Out of all the different vocations you could have chosen, why did you decide to go into the field of medicine?

Dr. Juliana Chen: My mother was a nurse, so that exposed and inspired me to go into medicine. I have also always wanted to be able to help people in a physical way, with my hands, rather than do a desk job.

Dr. Pang Ningyi: I was not a Christian when I chose medicine as a profession. My reasons then included a stable and respectable career, an interest in biology and a chance to help people in deeper ways.

These reasons are no longer the ones that motivate me to stay in the profession though. My reasons are now much more varied.

First, I am enabled to make a difference in people’s lives.

I am also given the ability to comfort and reassure people, and to train the next generation of healthcare workers.

Medicine also empowers me to possess skills that are transferrable and usable in rural communities overseas. I also enjoy the challenge of diagnoses – puzzle solving – and have a passion for the subjects of clinical medicine.

Did you consider avoiding frontline work?

Juliana: As a member of the senior staff, frontline duty was on a voluntary basis.

Because of this, there were many more junior staff being rostered at the NCID. Some of my junior staff were going on their second round, and I thought that as a senior it was not a good thing to “send them to war” without going myself. I wanted to show solidarity with them. I felt that as a Christian, I could set an example for other believers and non-believers in the department.

As a Christian, I have always felt and said that I am not scared of dying, as I am confident in where I am going. I have hope and faith in my eternity with Christ. As such, I must act in accordance with this faith.

“As a disciple of Jesus, how could I not be where the greatest needs are? Jesus Himself came to this world of mess and warfare to effect some change, and I want to follow that example.” – Dr. Pang Ningyi

I have also been through SARS and I go regularly to overseas missions where we are faced with varied infectious diseases in unknown situations. I hope to show some of the same considerations that Christ had, when He came to earth to be exposed to an “unknown and dangerous” situation – yet he did it because of His love for us.

Ningyi: No. It was a straightforward answer and decision – I want to be at the frontline.

First, as a disciple of Jesus, how could I not be where the greatest needs are? Jesus Himself came to this world of mess and warfare to effect some change, and I want to follow that example.

Second, as a Singaporean, my country is in crisis – how could I not be there at the frontline?

Finally, as a doctor, this is the greatest healthcare disaster of a generation – how could I miss out on the action?

If someone told you, “It’s not worth the risk for you to serve on the frontlines – think of your own health and your family.” What would say to that person?  

Ningyi: I think of my own health and my family all the time.

But I also happen to think of my fellow frontline healthcare workers’ health and families. Who doesn’t have a family? Very few frontline workers do not have a young child, a spouse, or ageing parents to think about. The more people who work on the frontline, the less stress and burden will be on each person, and each will have less exposure time to COVID-19.

Dr. Pang Ningyi helping a child on a medical mission trip, Kathmandu, Nepal, 2014

 

And I also happen to think of these patients’ health and their families. These patients also have families back home to take care of – families who are dependent on many of our migrant workers. It is our responsibility to take care of them and send each patient back to his or her family. If every healthcare worker only thinks about his health and family, who would take care of these patients?

What kind of care have you been providing during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Ningyi: I work as a doctor in a public hospital’s Emergency Department. In Singapore, a large proportion of our Covid-19 patients are among the migrant laborers. These workers come to seek diagnoses and treatment in our public hospitals

Over the last several weeks, many of my patients have turned out to have COVID-19. I care for them in the Emergency Department before their admission to the wards.

In May, I started working concurrently at a Community Care Facility, which holds many COVID-19 patients who are stable and well. These patients are not expected to suffer serious complications from the virus, and hence they are housed in such facilities to ease the burden on our acute public hospitals. I see the patients who come to seek consultation for various symptoms during their stay in the facility.

Juliana: I work in Tan Tock Seng Hospital in Singapore, which is the anchor hospital for the National Centre for Infectious Disease. As the NCID has no medical staff except for a few key office holders, our hospital provides medical coverage for the hospital in times of crisis.

Thus, when the COVID-19 situation erupted, we were called on to provide medical cover for NCID. Being a general surgeon, my department was mobilized to work in the screening center.

What do you wish more people understood about serving as a doctor in the time of COVID-19? Is there any aspect of your work that you feel people don’t understand?

Ningyi: I wish people understood that serving as a doctor in the time of COVID-19 does not make us contaminated or dirty. I had the unpleasant experience of being asked to leave a clinic full of pregnant women when I accompanied my wife there for her obstetrics check-up. The clinic staff had found out that I was taking care of COVID-19 patients regularly. I understand the fear but it was the way that message was given to me that made me feel discriminated against.

People do not understand that with good hygiene, conscientious safety precautions and personal protective equipment, most frontline healthcare workers are safe from Covid-19. This is apparent from our country’s statistics, because a very small number of healthcare workers taking care of COVID-19 patients have contracted the virus.

“When Christ came to Earth, He healed the sick and cared for the downtrodden. We are also to follow in the footsteps of our Master.” -Dr. Juliana Chen

Juliana: I realize that as much as I try to explain, most people don’t understand what we do or go through, especially in difficult situations like COVID-19. Some of the emotions and feelings we experience are difficult to describe and sometimes it’s not good to speak too much about them.

My church has a medical practitioner chat group and recently it has been more active than ever.

It’s difficult for people outside of medicine, even pastors, to be able to understand some of the ethical and moral concerns of practitioners.

Sometimes even within the field of medicine, practicing as a Christian doctor can be a lonely journey. Not all fellow believers may hold strongly to the same Christian ethos while at work, so I pray that more Christian believers will also spend some of their time pondering Christ’s work in their lives.

Why do you believe it’s important for believers to be a part of taking care of those who are most affected by this pandemic?

Ningyi: Taking care of those who are vulnerable and ill is a way in which God shows love to a hurting and broken world. Those of us who have experienced the extraordinary love of Jesus would feel the great desire to bring that same love to others, who also need to be loved like that. It should be a natural inclination for believers to jump into action and be there where there is a great need.

We have a one-way ticket to heaven through Christ’s sacrifice, but yet He kept us here on earth for good reasons – we still have work to do. That work involves redemption and rehabilitation, so it would be strange for able-bodied disciples to hide in inaction when there’s much to do.

Juliana: When Christ came to Earth, He healed the sick and cared for the downtrodden. We are also to follow in the footsteps of our Master.

This is the ethos of medicine and has been my driving force for most of my career. During this pandemic, it is even more important that believers step up to shine God’s love in the darkness.  Of all people, we should be living out our faith, and making heaven come to earth in this horrible situation.

Is your work as a doctor impacted in any ways by your faith?

Juliana: Yes – I think it can be categorized in 3 main ways:

First, I need to be an example to fellow believers in the same field. I was not fortunate to have Christian female surgeons as role models when I was being trained, so I strive to be a role model for juniors in my position. As such, my behavior as a believer is often put on show and open for criticism. I don’t profess to be the most ideal example but I strive to be an example of a Christian trying to live out her life as a doctor and surgeon.

Second, I have the responsibility to uphold the ethos of Christ, and to live a life that I will not be ashamed of. These days, the mission of being a doctor is often lost in the game of monetary returns. I try my best to dissect money from the pure aim and purpose of treating patients. It’s very difficult and I’ve been called naïve or idealistic but I still try my best.

Dr. Juliana Chen treating a patient while on medical missions, Davos, Philippines, 2014

 

An example of this is that I often go on mission trips, and in those situations I don’t charge my patients. I tell my staff that if I cannot charge patients for what I do on these trips – in fact I pay to go and help them – how can I charge someone an exorbitant price for any procedure? This is the reason I try to stay in public service – we are able to provide high quality healthcare for those in society who are unable to afford it.

This leads me to my last point. My work is impacted by Christ’s heart for the downtrodden and marginalized in society.

How can believers who are reading this pray for you? What are other ways they can provide help to doctors on the frontlines?

Juliana: I think it was said quite well in an article I read a few months ago. As doctors, we don’t need accolades during this time – we are just doing what we signed up to do. However, we would like it if you would treat us more humanely, even after the pandemic is over.

The winds of change in doctor-patient relationships, from trust to mistrust and bringing an environment of increasing malpractice claims, are coming fast and furious. Many of us have been sued by patients, when most of us just want to do a good job, though we sometimes fall short. A little trust and tolerance would go a long way.

I think people can also pray for a paradigm shift in the attitude of doctors. Pray that both Christians and our non-believing colleagues will encounter and display the heart of Jesus Christ, the perfect Healer, in our daily interactions with our patients.

Ningyi: Please pray that when people see my life, Jesus must become bigger and I must become less. I don’t want to be seen as a hero through this article, but I wish to tell others that a great Jesus motivates my life decisions.

Pray with me that COVID-19 will pass me and my family by, though I am ready for it if it comes.

For readers who wish to support the frontline medical staff, words of encouragement and gratitude are great gifts.

Also, we don’t have to be healthcare workers to help in the COVID-19 pandemic. What we need are willing hearts and genuine concern for others. Depending on your country’s situation, there are probably pockets of people who suffer more than others during the pandemic. Look out for them and do something within your capabilities.

We are all in this together.

Dr. Juliana Chen is a Surgeon who is Head of Service and a Senior Consultant at Tan Tock Seng Hospital in Singapore.  

Dr. Pang Ningyi is a Doctor serving in the Accident and Emergency Department in Ng Teng Fong General Hospital in Singapore.