By Ms Jessica Low Hui Chen, Dunman High School graduate

I had the pleasure of engaging in a week-long internship at International Eye Cataract Retina Centre in Farrer Park Medical Centre from 9-15 January 2018. Having just finished sitting for my “A” Levels in December 2017, I wanted to learn more about the medical profession, and had a wonderful time studying under ophthalmologist Dr Joy Chan, my mentor for the week, and her colleague Dr Au Eong Kah Guan, who let me observe some sessions with his patients.

The clinic has many state-of-the-art machines for comprehensive assessment of the eye, from the typical eye screening machine we would see at spectacle shops to more sophisticated retinal imaging devices like the fundus camera and the optical coherence tomography (OCT) machine. During lulls in patient visits, I got to try my hand on the machines. With a kind patient’s permission, Ms Olga Aprianti Lee, an optometrist and manager working at the clinic, supervised me to take a retinal photograph of each eye of the patient using the fundus camera. To my embarrassment, I took thrice the amount of time it took Olga to position the camera for a clear photo. I think the patient was relieved though, as we had a good laugh over the fact that with me, she could take a break from the bright camera lights in between the shots.

I was ecstatic when I found out that I could watch the ophthalmologists perform eye surgeries in person. While I did not have the opportunity to scrub in (since I would not come into direct contact with the patient), I could watch what was happening from the very microscopes the doctors used during the surgery.

Dr Chan’s cataract surgeries were fast and precise. A nurse I met prior to the surgery regaled me with stories about her operating theatre efficiency (one surgery took 9 minutes!), and I was certainly glad to have the opportunity to witness it firsthand. As she cut, sucked and injected various materials in and out of the eye, she gave an in-depth explanation of the surgical procedure. It was amazing seeing the deeper layers of the eye that I would otherwise only see in pictures and plastic models, especially in person through the microscope.

Observing surgeries under Dr Au Eong was slightly different. His case was more complicated; the patient had persistent pupillary membrane — a condition where parts of the pupillary membrane did not fully regress during foetal development, leaving tissue strands crossing the pupil — and had a high degree of astigmatism, hence the procedure required him to cut away the extra pupillary membrane and to use computer aids to align a special intraocular lens called a toric lens to correct the astigmatism. There was not much time for talking, hence I watched quietly, utterly fascinated by the cutting-edge technology and the skill of the healthcare professionals who bustled around the room and tended to the patient.

As patients came and went, Dr Chan explained to me the different eye conditions and their treatment methods. I, for one, did not realise that intraocular lenses now have UV and blue light blockers, and was continuously amazed of human ingenuity throughout the remainder of my attachment.

Some of her patients required the removal of chalazia, bumps on the eyelid often mistaken as styes. While not as complicated as cataract surgery, this procedure involved flipping the eyelid to make an incision on the inside of the eyelid (so as not to scar the outside), cutting and scooping out the jelly-like substance within the chalazion. I recall a patient being absolutely fascinated with the materials that emerged from his eyelid that he took many photos to show his wife, to the amusement of Dr Chan and myself.

One of my main takeaways was that private medical practitioners really get to know their patients—Dr Chan and one of her patients having an hour-long conversation while getting her eyes checked. Granted, not all patients wish to regale their stories to the doctors, but Dr Chan was very thorough in her checkups, and always ensured that her patients understood what she was saying, be it about their condition or the implications of different treatment methods, so that they could make an informed decision about how to proceed with healing. Dr Au Eong was no different; he patiently manoeuvred tricky questions and tailored his answers to the patient’s level of understanding. It was obvious to me that the doctors here cared for their patients.

I had an amazing experience interning under Dr Chan and Dr Au Eong. They and their assisting optometrists were very warm and welcoming, and took special care to explain to me the workflow and the science behind the things I observed. Seeing how much effort goes into ensuring the wellbeing of each patient, I’m sure that if there is a need, I would not hesitate to come back here, this time, as a patient. (Though for the sake of my health, I really hope that I will not have to hahaha.)