Dr Ang, who graduated as a doctor 40 years ago, has been practising paediatrics for close to 35 years, with a subspecialty in neonatal intensive care.
While the majority of newborns are healthy, some do develop problems after birth. As a neonatologist, she handles premature births, as well as babies with respiratory problems after birth, those with infections and various complications who need neonatal intensive care.
“It is labour intensive, so one has to be quick-minded, sharp in acumen, skilful, and willing to be by the sick child, even all through the night,” Dr Ang says.
“The relief and joy one has is tremendous when the child turns around, gets well and gets discharged,” she adds with a smile.
As a mother of four grown-up children (and a grandmother of two!), she reckons that looking after children comes naturally to her.
“People have asked me how I can be so alert and active, despite my schedule. I say I have a super battery inside me, ha!”
Dr Ang tells SmartParents more about her calling to be a doctor to babies and children.
Hi Dr Ang, tells us more about why you chose to go into paediatrics.
I’ve always been a consistent hard worker and so I thought, doctors work very hard, so that suits my personality! My motto in life is to be a good and reliable worker and give my best in whatever I do. In my early years of doctoring, paediatric patients brought joy and gladness to my heart. I could sit down with them, chat with them in a sisterly way. It gives me joy when paediatric patients get well and get discharged to go home. In the adult medical wards, the patients can sometimes be very sick and some succumb to their illness. I just found it rather sad and not rewarding enough, so I naturally chose to specialise in Paediatrics.
What’s a typical day like for you?
On a typical day, I’m in hospital by 6am and usually finish work by 6pm or 7 pm. Even in the night, I do not have the luxury of sleeping through every night, because I can be called for hospital emergency standby, for premature babies or babies in foetal distress anytime. I respond to such hospital calls because it is my duty ― I’m a neonatologist. However, I do not answer to patients’ calls in the night because they should go to the hospital 24-hour clinic first. After all, I need to catch up with whatever little sleep I get!
What drives you?
People have asked me how I can be so alert and active, despite my schedule. I say I have a super battery inside me, ha! Honestly, the love of my job and the strength of God is the answer. I always must make sure my patients are stable and well. Even in institution days, my house officers and medical officers found it comforting to be on call with me because I’d always come to help them and never scolded them.
Isn’t it extremely challenging to look after the really little newborns, the premature babies?
I have looked after babies as little as 680g or 720g. Some have had to stay in the NICU for up to three months but they survive well, get discharged and go home. Post-discharge, when you follow up on their milestones and they develop well without any consequences of their prematurity, I, together with their parents, am truly happy and glad. That gives me the motivation to carry on.
Any memorable cases?
All the severe prematures who grow up well with no complications, and who go to school now like any other normal kids.
So, besides babies, you also see older kids?
I see babies from newborns to toddlers, all the way even to teenagers. Parents bring even their teenage children to see me because they are so used to me and these parents claim their kids must see me to get well! Every level of childhood has different problems, but I do not have a problem handling them.
Who is more difficult to handle, the kids or the parents?
As paediatricians, we handle the child, the parents and even the grandparents. It is important to chat to the parents and to understand them as each person is so different. Being in this practice for so long, I have seen many different scenarios and I can honestly say I can handle each one of them. One just has to listen ― the doctor and patient or parent must communicate. Right now, I’m looking after second-generation patients ― that is, my patients have grown up, gotten married, had children and I’m looking after their children now! I joke that I’m like a grandma to the new babies ― this is the joy I get.
“My advice is that even if parents are separated, they should still try not to say bad things about the other parent. It is important for the child to have a good and positive image of their mum or dad.”
So, do you keep in touch with your patients who have grown up?
I remember when I was a houseman in my Paediatrics training days, when I looked after a little girl, about 5 years old, with a chronic blood disorder. She had to stay in the ward for a fairly long period and she got to like me so much that after she was discharged from the hospital and many years later, she managed to search me out in my private practice at Thomson Medical Centre. She dropped by to say hello and thanked me for my caring ways which helped her in her recovery. She even brought her niece to consult me subsequently.
Not all cases have a happy ending surely…
Some of the sad cases involve parents who divorce. I’ve seen parents divorce after one kid and I’ve seen parents who divorce even after three kids. My advice is that even if parents are separated, they should still try not to say bad things about the other parent. It is important for the child to have a good and positive image of their mum or dad. Otherwise, it will affect their attitude of the opposite sex when they grow up. Marriage is a commitment ― it is a lifelong journey. And it’s not always easy, but one should focus on the other partner, love each other and the family. I believe that if both make the commitment to make it work, it will.
In what instances should parents see a GP, and in what instances do they need to see a paediatrician?
It’s the parent’s comfort level and choice. When parents have a good rapport with you, even for minor ailments, they still come to consult me as it gives them peace of mind.
Please complete these sentences…
My guilty indulgence is… Nice food and wine. Generally, I’m a little picky with my food! Wine ― my children always remind me ― Mummy, only one glass!
I cope with your long hours by… Exercising! I spend too many hours in the hospital, so I’ve very little time. My husband always jokes that TMC is my first home and my real home is my second home! But I still must find time to exercise and keep fit. I’m on treadmill thrice weekly, I carry some light weights and do my rower. If I don’t exercise. I feel more lethargic and worse off.
To stay close as a family… We try to find time to eat together as a family. Most of my family is in medicine ― my husband and three of my children are in medicine, and my first son is in law. All of us are busy, busy, and time is not our own but eating together is important. My hubby and I are still very much in love, as my nurses always comment!
Photos: Dr Ang Ai Tin
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