Singapore is well-known for it’s healthcare facilities being one of the best in all of Asia, so it is no surprise that The Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC) is one of the biggest and best hospitals in the world, seeing a footfall of around 300,000 OPD visits each year. The centre also has a very impressive and thriving research arm, the Singapore Eye Research Institute (SERI).
For Professor Tien Yin Wong, Medical Director of SNEC and Chairman of the Board of SERI, the goal is nothing less than an international standing.
Tien Yin says he started ophthalmology so long ago that he can’t remember why he chose the field over other early interests such as cardiology and surgery.
When he settled on medical and surgical eye diseases, however, he initially had a singular focus on becoming proficient as a clinician and gave no thought to the possibility of one day occupying a leadership role.
“Building up your clinical skills to a reasonable level takes a long time in this field. You need seven or eight years of accumulating enough experience just to become proficient at what you’re doing.”
“I’m sure it’s the same in any profession, whether you are a doctor or lawyer, that when you’re young, you never think about management at all.”
“Most doctors are actually very low in the hierarchy. When you start in the field, going into management is not even on the horizon.”
Tien Yin attended medical school at the National University of Singapore (NUS), where he was a President’s Scholar.
Determined to pursue further studies at a time when clinicians were not encouraged to undertake postgraduate research, he took leave without pay to complete his master’s and then a PhD.
He chose Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore after being inspired by a lecture delivered by its Dean Professor Alfred Sommer, the ophthalmologist credited with discovering the link between vitamin A deficiency and blindness.
Tien Yin then completed clinical ophthalmology training at SNEC. A prolific career in academia followed, and today, Tien Yin has given more than 300 talks that engaged audiences around the world.
He has also published more than 1,000 peer-reviewed journal articles on topics from macular degeneration and retinal vein occlusion to the epidemiology of retinal diseases.
His work has included pioneering multidisciplinary use of retinal imaging as a predictive tool.
This interest was developed when he established the Singapore Advanced Imaging Laboratory for Ocular Research (SAILOR), which has now evolved to become the SNEC Ocular Reading Centre (SORC), and continues Tien Yin’s multidisciplinary and collaborative approach to his work.
It uses digital analysis of ocular images to detect and treat diseases including diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, corneal diseases and pathological myopia. It has also added to the understanding of microvascular pathology in cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases.
Another focus of his work is diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes that can lead to irreversible blindness.
Currently, awareness levels are dangerously low with only 50% of diabetics cognisant of the risk.