Did you know that approximately 5% of orthopaedic surgeons are women, making it the lowest percentage of female representation in any medical specialty? But that didn’t stop Dr Tan Sok Chuen from entering the field. In fact, she is one of only two female private orthopaedic surgeons in Singapore and the only female hip and knee surgeon in the country.
Her passion for treating hip and knee conditions has also led her to launch Hip & Knee Orthopaedics in April last year with her husband, Dr Adrian Lau. Since the launch, they’ve served over 200 patients, specialising in evidence-based treatments and providing value-driven care for musculoskeletal conditions.
We spoke to Dr Tan to learn more about the industry, her journey so far and more.
TVM: What were some of the challenges you’ve faced as a female surgeon in the medical field, in particular, orthopaedic and how did you overcome them?
Dr Tan: Traditionally, surgery especially orthopaedic surgery has always been known as “the boys’ club”. There is always this constant need to “prove yourself”, the unspoken rule is that we have got to work harder than the boys. Certainly my personal life took a hit. I am blessed to have a husband who is also in the same field, thus he understands the struggles that I face.
TVM: Was it difficult to build a strong credibility in the orthopaedic field? What were your main inspirations in your journey?
Dr Tan: Yes indeed it is challenging. Orthopaedic surgery is an exciting field and I think especially in the area of joint replacements it has come a long way. It is inspiring to see how forefathers of joint replacement surgery continually looked for solutions to treat joint arthritis, and how to best replace the function of joints using metal prostheses. I think that the collective intellectual body of orthopaedic surgeons and its persistence is very inspiring.
TVM: You have a keen passion for treating hip and knee conditions, especially in the area of joint replacements that led you to establish Hip & Knee Orthopaedics with your husband. What were your key driving forces and why this field? I hear this has something to do with your love for lego and puzzles!
Dr Tan: Both my husband and myself did our overseas fellowships (under the Health Manpower Development Programme) in subspecialty training in hip and knee surgery, thus we felt that the name “Hip & Knee Orthopaedics” very aptly describes what we do and love. Joint replacement surgery has some similarities with building lego blocks which is what I loved when I was young. There are various parts within the instrumentation and implants which have to be fixed up together in order to fit the anatomy of the patient, just like fixing up Lego blocks together. And fixing up fractures is very much like fixing up various pieces of jigsaw together as well!
TVM: What are your future plans for Hip & Knee Orthopaedics?
Dr Tan: We hope Hip & Knee Orthopaedics can become a household name that comes to mind whenever one is looking for reliable, personable and efficient care for his/her orthopaedic problems.
TVM: You have a keen focus on providing evidence-based and efficient care for patients with musculoskeletal conditions in Singapore. Could you elaborate?
Dr Tan: With the abundance of information available online, I think it is important to have professionals to tease out the updated and most reliable information, and this is our role. We also take pride in responding promptly to patients’ problems so as to ease their anxiety and also expedite the return to their favourite activities/hobbies.
TVM: You are one of only two female private orthopaedic surgeons in Singapore and the only female hip and knee surgeon in the country. That’s a great feat for you but it also highlights the lack of female representation in the field. How important do you think STEM education is for girls and how can we encourage more women to join the field?
Dr Tan: Yes there is certainly underrepresentation of women in orthopaedic surgery. In Singapore, there are about 300 registered orthopaedic surgeons, but only about 5% are female. However, that is slowly changing. There are more female trainees now than when I was a trainee. I think women should have the freedom to pursue a career in the area of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics should that be something that interests them. The societal mindset and framework should change to embrace women in STEM field. This would open up the talent pool and can only be advantageous in a small country like Singapore.
TVM: A lot of young Singaporean girls read The Vent Machine. What message would you give to inspire them?
Dr Tan: Pursue your dreams, work hard and though sometimes you may feel that you are alone, you are not. Look around, ask for help, look for opportunities to collaborate!