Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Medical Mind

The semester which involves the most reading has just ended, and what we read was just a small fraction of the whole of the medical field. With so much to read, I wonder if a person can really be confident enough to hold the responsibility to save lives. I think nobody can claim that he or she is fully ready. Someone might claim that he is ready for the final exam, but being fully ready to become a doctor is a very different thing. Fortunately, medicine is insanely human, and with everything else that is human, it involves interactions between individuals. It is like a sport, where no single person can do things alone, teamwork is vital, and if a person doesn’t play by the rules, the thing at stake is the lives of others. Hence, being a team sport, a doctor does not necessarily know everything under the sun. That is why in medicine we have specialties, and a person will decide to devote themselves into a field they feel that they have passion in.
Many students make the mistake of wanting to know every single detail there is under the medical umbrella. Many took in the details of the theoretical knowledge too seriously that they lose the humanity of medicine, which was actually the main tenet. Our responsibility lies not in knowing every single detail there is. It is more than just about reading books from cover to cover. I believe with most certainty that to become a great doctor is not just to be knowledgeable in theory, but to cultivate a medical mind.
A medical mind is a mind that of a doctor that is not quick to judge, a mind that observes and analyses before coming out with conclusions. A mind that is trained to see subtle changes, either in anatomical features or human behaviour. A mind that is trained to listen, to perceive even the slightest signs or symptoms, the one that can detect the smallest movements of the small muscles of the face which could indicate a frown or a disagreement, even when the words which came out of the mouth was that of an agreement. Cultivating a medical mind is not just about reading thousands of pages and vomit out every single detail onto a paper, it is about cultivating a mind that can make decisions as sharp as a surgical knife, as confident as puncturing an artery, a mind that is able to take in a flood of information and render it down into simple but important facts that really matters. The simple things that make all the difference.

Cultivating a medical mind is about developing the simplicity of a surgeon in handling the hassles of everyday life and the complexity of a physician in thinking to solve a problem. Medicine is insanely human, it takes more than mere logic to solve the problems confined into the four walls of the hospital. Human complexities are beyond the limits of logic.
The diseases that plagues humans are an interplay of our own environment, our anatomy, physiology and our mind. The human mind and body defies logic, one may expect a result from one but not the same from another.
When a medical mind is cultivated, the mind is ready for future endeavours not only in the medical field. History has been sparkled by the presence of doctors in the field of politics, business, economics and even arts. This is because the medical mind not only makes you a better doctor, it makes you a better human. A mind that is trained to take in so many information in so little time is destined to learn the most impossible things at a most rapid rate. A mind that is trained to listen and to detect the subtleties of the body language may succeed anywhere in any field that involves the interaction with other humans and the general public. A mind that is taught to empathize and understand the suffering of others is sought after in relationships, either professionally or personally. These are the qualities of the medical mind. It does not read the mind of others, but it is trained to listen, understand, treat and make life better, for you and the people around.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Working with IBM: Business Lessons in Daily Life

One of the subjects that I have never regretted and am most thankful for taking before I entered medical school was Business & Management. I took the course along with 6 other subjects when I was in International Baccalaureate in MARA College Seremban from 2005 to 2007. I still remember how my lecturer at that time, Puan Kartina would make the subject very interesting with her ‘in-between stories’ that somehow may seem not related to business management at all, but were very interesting indeed. It was soon I learned that as well as in medicine, the lessons from business management apply not only in the workplace but also in living daily life. Maybe that is why her stories were always related to her life, but has business lessons in it. 

If it weren’t for Business and Management, I wouldn’t think I would be able to play the leadership role I hold today. Even after I’ve graduated from International Baccalaureate, I crave for business lessons and would always always always visit a bookstore every time I go to a shopping mall to get my hands on a new business book. Right now in my house, my bookshelf is already full of those kinds of books that I had to buy an extension to it. A few of my all-time favourites was: Built to Last and Good to Great by Jim Collins, Onwards by Howard Schulz, The Starbucks Experience by Joseph Michelli, The Innovation of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo, Inside Steve’s Brain by Leander Kahney, The Big Idea by marketing guru Donny Deutsch, Blink, The Tipping Point and Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Narcissistic Leaders by Michael Maccoby, Doctor in the House by Tun Mahathir Mohammad (you might not think this is a business book but it has a LOT of lessons about doing business in Malaysia), Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff about Money by the late Richard Carlson, and…oh, I am not a book promoter, am I?

The most interesting thing I find in these books was the story of the business companies as a whole and the gritty people inside them that unfolds the story of success. I love reading about how the companies were started, how determined their founders were despite various setbacks, the ups and downs of companies, how they were burnt to the ground and then rise from the ashes, the passionate people that make things happen by teamwork, and the life and death of the prominent figures in business. Each and every company has their own stories, as told by the people inside them, but all in all, the stories shaped the way I think about leading an organization and leading my own life. 

Apart from the story of Apple, Starbucks, Google and Sony, my favourite story was about IBM, the International Business Machines. I sum up their company as extremely innovative. Just recently, IBM has passed Microsoft to become the world’s second-most valuable technology company. Although their products were not as publicized as Apple’s iPad, iPod or iPhones, that’s only because their products work silently in the background. They are like the timid guy in class who makes things happen in the background and end up being a revolutionary. Their components powered our cities, lighted up our skyscrapers, mobilize our LRTs, powered the MRIs and CT scans we doctors use every day and even enable you to read this very text I am writing. I have always imagined myself working for a big international companies, just for the sake of imagination, but of all things, I would have never ever guess that I will ever work with IBM someday, at least not until I am working. Who would have thought that the day came when I am still a mere student? I had the chance to work with them when they approached my medical student organization, SMMAMS, where they wanted to collaborate with us making their IBM Smarter Planet Healthcare Week a reality. This morning I received a thank you email from them. It goes like this:

Subject: Thank You SMMAMS for All Your Help
Dear Lutfi, Hsiao-Hui and all those at the Society of Malaysian Medical Association Medical Students (SMMAMS),

Firstly, we would like to thank each and everyone one of you for supporting IBM Smarter Planet Malaysia and for your participation during the Healthcare Week. Without you, the Healthcare Week would not have been the success that it was. Thank you.

With the help of you, the SMMAMS students and the few hardworking souls who helped run the Healthcare Week contest, we have increased the traffic of the IBM Smarter Planet Malaysia Facebook and Twitter webpages. We had a jump of over 50 ‘likes’ in the span of 1 week and an increase of users who came across the webpages by the hundreds.

Your participation has helped spread the values of a Smarter Healthcare not only amongst Malaysian but to others from a far. To add, your involvement is the impetus to future technological progress of a Smarter Healthcare and ultimately, to a Smarter Planet. Please find attached a copy of the infographic for your keeping. I hope you have found the information useful, we shall be following up with the winners to give them the prizes. Again Hsiao-Hui and Lufti, thank you very much.

We will be in contact with you when we have future projects coming up that you might be interested. Keep in touch.

Best Regards,

Conrad Bateman
IBM Malaysia

Before the event, me and my IT director, Ms Hsiao Hui Yeap had a 'business negotiation' with one of the people from IBM over dinner. I find the people in successful business their face light up with passion when talking about their product that you have to wonder if they were really trained to do just that or they really have that passion in their hearts. Working for a big company such as IBM was an eye-opener to me. I have mentioned before that I am interested in doing Public Health and management of the health system in Malaysia where I believe needs TREMENDOUS help by applying business lessons. I pray that someday I will be able to do something about the healthcare system in Malaysia, and make it smarter. But I guess even if I don’t get to, I might just apply those lessons in real life, in any organizations I am in, in family (a family itself is an organization, isn't it), and if everything else didn't work, I might just end up saying, ''I am not a businessman, I AM a business, man!''

Thursday, October 6, 2011

On Discrimination

Have you ever been denied certain things because of the appearance you were in? Like the cloth you wear or the car you were driving? I have been a few times. I think it is human nature to judge people based on appearance first and character later. Despite being a so-called 'anak Dato' I drive a crappy old Proton Saga that must have been nearly as old as my younger sister and on a glance must have looked as if it was taken off a junkyard. But I am happy with it. My dad just didn't want to pamper their children with too much luxury and I am at least proud to drive a national car.

So last month I drove my car to an event in UKM Bangi where the Deputy Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhiyiddin Yassin was the VIP. As I approached the entrance of the parking lot, the Pak Guard there saw me from afar and made a cross sign by his arms and shouted 'Tak boleh masuk!'. I saw there were still a lot of empty parking spaces but then I thought they might be reserved for the lecturers and VIPs and the students had to park outside. So outside I went and parked my car down the hill. From there, I had to walk a few hundred meters uphill under the scorching sun to reach the venue. Drenched in sweat, I finally arrived at the entrance when I saw a fellow friend of mine driving a car much better than mine smiled and waved at me, then drove swiftly into the parking lot I was denied into just earlier. The Pak Guard who stopped me earlier just stood there, and to my surprise just let in all the other students' car too. 'Wow, this is what I call daylight discrimination!' I thought. Being the Yang Dipertua for your college means nothing in the eyes of others when you're driving a crappy car. In the hall I asked my friends where they parked their car and they all parked just outside the hall.

I decided to let if off my mind. However, in the afternoon I was invited to have lunch at the same table with the Deputy Prime Minister. I sat near him, we had met when he had his Charity Golf event in Bandung, so we talked about the place, he asked me how come I am now here in UKM, and I explained that I am under a Twinning Program with Indonesia. As I was chatting with the DPM, the Pak Guard saw me. I was sure he did, because as I turned towards him, he abruptly turned his head away, perhaps recognizing me as the one driving the crappy car this morning. He must have thought I am a VIP of some sort for sitting on the same table as the Ministers and Vice Chancellor and felt guilty for denying my entry this morning. The fact is that I am nothing more than a student representative. While there is nothing much to be proud of just sitting over lunch with these people, I felt satisfied for being able to show him how appearance can sometimes be a bad measurement for a person.

So people, let us not judge others solely by their appearance

All this reminded me of a joke I read somewhere which doesn't really have anything to do with the moral of this story, but hilarious indeed:

Not long ago, there was this man driving fast a car with tinted glass windows at the heart of Kuala Lumpur. The police saw him driving so fast and forced him to stop by the roadside. The car stopped, and the driver lowered the tinted glass windows. The police demanded for the driver's license in a harsh manner without even looking at the driver. The driver suddenly got in a rage and shouted ''Suka hati aku la, ni BAPAK aku punya jalan!''. The policeman glanced at the signboard that stated the name of the road. It read:

Jalan Tun Razak


As I was glancing over the Pak Guard

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Story of Autism

There has been many films made about people living with autism, from east to west, such as 'Rain Man' from Hollywood, played by Tom Cruise. 'My Name is Khan' from Bollywood, played by Shah Rukh Khan, and our very own 'Sekali Lagi' from Greenwood, Gombak played by Sam and Lisa Surihani (although it might be wiser for the director to consult a doctor about the symptoms of autism first, which are persistent and life long, not episodic like in that movie). These movies were quite interesting and gives a great insight towards people who previously had no idea about autism. However, how interesting these movies might seem to me, nothing compares to the story of autism I saw last week, right in front of my eyes. It was when we organized a community project at the National Autism Society of Malaysia (NASOM) near Taman Tasik Titiwangsa. While not many of the children have the looks like Tom Cruise or Shah Rukh Khan, unlike children with other genetic diseases like Down's or Turner's syndrome, these children look perfectly normal...and adorable! Just look at them:





But looking perfectly normal has their disadvantages for children with mental disabilities. Sometime people just judge others by their appearance, just because they look normal doesn't mean that they don't have difficulties and we don't have to help them. Because they look normal, sometimes they are denied of disability privileges. Without proper diagnosis by a psychiatrist, it is quite hard to confirm that a children has autism. These children present with various symptoms, varying in severity and manner, and there is no one definite symptoms that can confirm the diagnosis. A thorough evaluation must be done. Some of the symptoms include a s
tand-offish manner,inappropriate laughing (they laugh at almost anything), showing no fear of real dangers (a grizzly bear might appear in front of them and they might just play with it), apparent insensitivity to pain (they sometimes bite their own arms when frustrated), difficulty with mixing with other children (these are the main problems they face in school), adverse to cuddling (they just don't want to be cuddled!), sustained odd play (they can play with a toy train for hours, just pushing them back and forth again and again), crying tantrums for no reason (you don't want this to happen while you're playing with them) and many more.

However, despite those setbacks, autistic children can have a wide range of intellectual ability. Just look at Shah Rukh Khan in the movie my name is Khan, he has an amazing ability in memorizing things. Children with autism can also have other extraordinary abilities in mathematics, mechanical skills, music and many more. Some people with autism even went as far as being world renowned and I am sure you have heard of
them: Bill Gates (I know what you're thinking. No, I am not kidding, but Bill Gates is autistic, but however he is the high-functioning type. He has an obsession towards coding computer softwares. He coded day and night, and that's how he founded Microsoft Windows), Virginia Woolf, the prolific writer who only writes while standing up, Jane Austen, another prolific writer, Steven Spielberg, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton and Vincent van Gogh (Source:

From my experience there, communicating with them is a hard thing to do. Taking care of them need extreme patience. They can be very mischievous, but yet very lovable. There are high hopes for these children. If only we are aware of their disabilities, understand them and give them a chance to flourish. I am glad that Malaysia has a center which involves in taking care of these children and increasing the awareness of the public towards them. NASOM has many centers all around Malaysia. I am sure that since its establishment since 1986, it has changed a lot of children with autism's life. The visit has impacted me a lot. Every time I hear about autism, I would remember the children I met at Nasom. The child who was obsessed with Ultraman, the child who tiptoes all the time, the child who was very good at puzzles, the child who just couldn't sit down...I would like to make a change in their lives. You can make a change too. How about start by donating to NASOM? You can do so by contacting 03-79843942, emailing or visiting Let's make this world a better place for all ;)

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