23 Aug 2016 IMU Alumnus Awarded the Bill Marshall Fellowship
The Bill Marshall Fellowship is awarded to 1-2 applicants from South East Asia every year, to spend time in a specialty of interest at Great Ormond Street Hospital, London. It was in memory of Dr William Courtney Marshall who was a reputable clinician who contributed much light in infectious disease in children, their causation, and prevention by immunisation.
“Having being awarded this scholarship, I was able to spend time in the renowned Great Ormond Street Hospital, to gain experience in Paediatric & Neonatal Intensive Care and participate in research studies. It gave me an opportunity to learn and experience the handling and management of Paediatric Intensive Care in an international tertiary centre.”’
Dr Vasan is the Head of Paediatrics Department in Hospital Keningau, Sabah. After completing his MBBS with a full scholarship from IMU, he completed his housemanship in Queen Elizabeth Hospital Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. Later on, he trained in Sabah Women and Children’s Hospital, Sabah, and attained a membership with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (MRCPCH) UK.
The main reason for him to study medicine is because of his sister and a late aunty. “I have a sister who has cerebral palsy, and lost an aunty who had chronic kidney disease. I used to spend a lot of time in the hospital caring for them, even at home. There was always this yearning of getting on top of all these diseases, and it was always an enigma, a mystery – and that curiosity lead me to the interest in medicine, in addition to wanting the best for the people out there so they don’t have to go through what my sister and late aunty had gone through.”
On why he chose to specialise in pediatrics, he answered “Babies and children never speak for themselves. When they are presented to a doctor, it is entirely up to the clinician to figure out what the diagnosis is with the most minimal of information. Children succumb to their diseases easily but they also recover tremendously well. This makes the job extremely challenging and keeps you on your toes all the time. The gift of seeing that once extremely ill child walk out your hospital with a smile is priceless.”
“Children and babies are looked at as “tiny adults” but that isn’t the case at all. A preterm baby has a completely different physiology as compared to that of a term infant, and an infant is different from that of a toddler. Managing the different stages of childhood comes with understanding the physiology that is special to each particular age group. In short, it is the intricacy of Paediatric medicine that drew me to it.”
“To be a Paediatrician, it all starts with the love of children. Knowing that you are the only person that they can rely on during times of illness. Sure, babies are cute and children are a ball to play with – but in the midst of illness these special group of humans are far from cute or playful. The motivation is to always be there by their side, holding their hands through the whole process of illness, until they recover. It is the challenge, the compelling presentation of Paediatric diseases, the hunger for knowledge, and this fire within to improve child healthcare that keeps me driven and motivated to excel in this field.”
We asked him to describe a typical day as a pediatric specialist in Keningau Hospital, “Being the only Paediatrician in Hospital Keningau, Sabah, most hours are spent in the hospital rather than at home. The day starts with ward rounds in the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) followed by the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Special Care Nursery, and the Children’s Medical Ward. This is then followed by the specialist clinic, and Thalassemia Day Care biweekly.”
“In the afternoons are teaching sessions for the medical officers, administrative meeting and mortality meetings. In between, casualty red zones cases are attended by myself as well, requiring emergency resuscitation and intensive care subsequently. This is then followed by an evening round, to follow up on morning plans, and new admissions. The day ends with a night round where all the Intensive care babies and children are reviewed. In addition, I do phone cover for 2 other quaint district hospitals – Hospital Tenom and Hospital Tambunan, and do monthly visits to these hospitals and Klinik Kesihatan Nabawan, close to the secluded area of Pensiangan.”
Dr Vasan was originally from Selangor. So we wondered why he chose to practice in Sabah – “I had gone to Sabah for a brief holiday during my university days as many of my friends hailed from the island of Borneo. I fell in love with the beauty and simplicity of the city. At that time, my professors from IMU encouraged me to do my housemanship there as well, as the clinical experience and hands-on opportunities were said to be invaluable – and indeed they were! ”
“During my housemanship, I got to know the people of Sabah and the background of our fellow Malaysians living here. Sabah is the poorest state in Malaysia (World Bank, 2015). Access to healthcare isn’t easy, and when most patients arrive to the hospital, they are in dire conditions. At times, we do fly out by helicopter to retrieve these patients. Working for these group of people gave me a fulfilment that cannot be described. Sabah requires a lot of growth and development in terms of healthcare, and I wish to be part of it, contributing to the betterment of medicine here, especially in the field of Paediatrics – the very reason why I’m still in service here (in Sabah).”
Despite his busy schedule in the hospital, Dr Vasan still finds time to travel. “My interests lie in understanding different cultures. I spend a lot of time reading history and geography, of untold tribes and stories. I enjoy travelling to different countries and try to find time for that. Hobbies include cooking, baking, going for road trips and scuba diving.”
When asked about his future plans, Dr Vasan said his intention is to further specialise in Paediatric Intensive Care Medicine, and hopefully return to Sabah to work on developing intensive care medicine (and Paediatric medicine as a whole) and critical care transport in the other areas of Sabah.
His advice to anyone inspiring to be a doctor is that “Being a doctor isn’t about the title, the “class” or the misguided notion of a comfortable income. It is ultimately service. Service to the unfortunate, the ill, people who are at their weakest, most vulnerable state. You have to be prepared to work very hard, long hours – but if you have the passion, those hours mean nothing and the returns are invaluable. Medicine is a life-long learning opportunity. You never stop learning – and it makes being a doctor challenging and enjoyable at the same time. Look forward to that.”
We would like to express our heartfelt thanks to Dr Vasan for taking time out to answer our questions even though he was running on a tight schedule in London. IMU is very proud of his work and his passion in the medical field. We wish him all the best in his continued journey.