1) Please introduce yourself.
Hello, my name is Ernest, and I recently turned 40 years old. I grew up in Singapore, a small but vibrant city in Southeast Asia, in a family of 5 with 2 younger siblings. My mother is currently a nursing director in the operating theatre at the Singapore General Hospital with a career spanning more than 4 decades. Her commitment to her work and compassionate care for her patients have played a big role in inspiring me to pursue a career in medicine.
2) Where is your working place back in your country and what is your specialty?
After finishing my ENT residency in June 2016, I joined Tan Tock Seng Hospital, a highly-regarded tertiary hospital located in the central region of Singapore, as a Consultant Otorhinolaryngologist. Since then, I have honed my skills and developed a special interest in Head & Neck surgery. In addition to my clinical work, I am heavily involved in undergraduate medical education as the lead ENT tutor for the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine at the Nanyang Technological University.
3) How did you get to know Severance? Why did you choose Severance as your training hospital?
Severance Hospital, a prominent institution within the Yonsei University Health System, has long been regarded as a leading global center for robotic surgery. It was the first hospital in South Korea to introduce the da Vinci surgical system for robotic surgery in July 2005. In fact, many of my ENT colleagues from Singapore have attended the short-term training programs offered by the Severance Robot and MIS Center and have reported significant benefits from their experiences.
Personally, I had the honor of meeting Professor Koh Yoon Woo, the current fellowship director at Severance, during the Asian Summit on Robotic Surgery (ASRS) held in Singapore in October 2018. Professor Koh is a world-renowned robotic head and neck surgeon who is the pioneer for the Robotic Retroauricular Neck Dissection for Thyroid and Head & Neck Cancer. After attending the summit, his vast experience and expertise left a profound impact on me, and I was eager to further develop my interest in robotic surgery.
I am immensely grateful to Professor Koh and his department for granting me the opportunity to undergo training in the field of robotic head and neck surgery in this world-class institution.
4) How long is your training period in Korea?
My training period in Korea is 1 year, from 1 July 2022 to 30 June 2023. It has been wonderful to experience the changing seasons and climates over the past 1 year.
5) Which area did you focus on during your fellowship at Severance?
My fellowship at Severance Hospital has a primary focus on robotic head and neck surgery, which is due to the significant number of cases being performed at the hospital, totaling more than 450 cases every year. In addition, I have had the opportunity to gain exposure to conventional open head and neck surgeries and free flap reconstruction cases during my time here. My supervising professor is Professor Koh Yoon Woo. Under his guidance, I have been fortunate to learn from one of the world’s foremost experts in robotic head and neck surgery. Professor Koh has performed over 2500 robotic surgeries to date and has an exceptional wealth of experience and knowledge in this field. It has been an incredible privilege to work alongside him and learn from his expertise.
6)What is the most impressive feature of Severance Hospital?
Severance Hospital is truly deserving of its motto “The First and the Best”, both in terms of its “hardware” and “software”.
The “hardware” refers to Severance’s state-of-the art medical facilities, world-class infrastructure, and advanced medical technology and systems such as robotic surgery and the first Heavy Ion Cancer Therapy Center in the country. Every morning as I make my way down Yonsei-ro towards the hospital campus, I am struck by the impressive sight of the Yonsei Cancer Centre and the Severance Hospital Main Building towering over the Sinchon skyline, with the majestic Ansan mountain in the background.
However, what impresses me even more is the “software” which refers to the excellent quality of medical care and heartfelt dedication displayed by every member of the medical staff towards their patients. The teamwork and camaraderie among the staff are exceptional, with a strong focus on attention to detail and efficient work processes. This is a great testament to the excellent training and workplace culture being fostered at the hospital.
7)What are the specific contents of your fellowship program at Severance?
As a fellow at Severance Hospital, my daily schedule includes surgical training in the operating rooms, with regular opportunities to participate in outpatient clinics, ward rounds, and weekly head and neck tumor board meetings. Moreover, I had the privilege of completing the prestigious Severance International Fellowship-Prime Course (SIF-PC) in September 2022, which led to the acquisition of hands-on operating privileges being granted by the Ministry of Health and Welfare in Korea.
To further enhance my academic and professional growth, I have actively participated in various ENT head and neck conferences, such as the International Conference of the Korean Society for Head and Neck Oncology (ICHNO) and the 2023 Spring Combined Workshop for Head and Neck Surgery. As a representative of my department, I delivered an oral presentation on the "Feasibility of Robotic Surgery for various Head & Neck Tumors in Pediatric Patients" at the International Congress of ORL-HNS held in April 2023.
The comprehensive fellowship program at Severance Hospital has provided me with invaluable experience and exposure to a wide range of head and neck surgeries, enabling me to hone my skills and knowledge in this highly specialized field.
8)If you were to get the chance to come back, which field of clinical study would you like to focus on?
Given the opportunity to return, I would be eager to continue focusing on robotic head and neck surgery. The field is constantly evolving, and I believe that staying up-to-date with the latest techniques and technology is essential for providing the best possible care for our patients. The learning curve for robotic surgery can be steep, but I am excited by the challenge and remain committed to continued growth and development in this area. Ultimately, my goal is to use the latest technology and techniques to provide the best care to my patients, and I believe that honing my skills in robotic surgery is an important part of achieving that goal.
9)Who are you most thankful for at Severance(who helped you the most) & why?
I am most grateful to Professor Koh for his invaluable mentorship and the exceptional training opportunities that he has provided me with during my fellowship. He is always forthcoming in sharing his vast experience in head and neck surgery and committed in ensuring the best outcome for all his patients. His unwavering commitment to the well-being of his patients, his immense contribution to the advancement in the field of robotic head and neck surgery over the years as well as his vision for the future of robotic surgery, have been a great source of inspiration for me.
I would also like to express my deepest appreciation to all the esteemed professors in the department, each of whom has generously imparted their knowledge and expertise in various aspects of head and neck surgery. From Professor Hong Hyun Jun’s enthusiastic and insightful teachings on free flap reconstruction to Professor Kim Da Hee’s valuable tips on head and neck surgery, from Professor Sim Nam Suk’s guidance on research projects to Professor Eun Chang Choi’s inspiring career journey, I have gained immeasurable insights and skills from them.
A special mention also goes to Dr Lee Kyu In for his warm hospitality and assistance in helping me settle into the department, as well as to all the residents, nurses and operating assistants who have been instrumental in making my time here a fulfilling and enjoyable one. Finally, I would also like to thank Mr. Han and his colleagues from the International Office for their administrative support.
10)What was your first impression of Korea?
I am very impressed with the high level of fitness among the elderly population in Korea. When I first arrived in Korea during summer, I started going on cycling trips along the Han River and hikes along the Seoul fortress wall trails during the weekends. It is a common sight to see large groups of elderly men and women engaging in such activities and using the public gym facilities in the parks. This is an indicator of the importance placed on health by the elderly in Korea and is likely to alleviate the burden on limited healthcare resources in the long run.
11)What is the best memory so far during your stay here?
In addition to the exceptional fellowship training that I have received, one of the most treasured memories I have of my time at Severance Hospital was the opportunity to interact with a diverse group of individuals, including local head and neck surgeons from other institutions, as well as visiting international fellows and doctors from various countries. This cross-cultural exposure has allowed me to gain valuable insight into the unique challenges that exist both within and outside the field of medicine. It has been a true privilege to be part of such a vibrant and dynamic community where ideas are regularly exchanged, and lifelong friendships are being forged. Looking back, I am grateful for this enlightening journey that has broadened my horizons and left an indelible mark on my heart.