LC: You’ve been an ophthalmologist for the past 15 years and with a strong resume in your bag. What have been some of the highlights of your career so far?
CP: The highlights of my career would definitely be the time that I spent overseas acquiring expertise from the greatest masters in the field. I’m a true believer that we should open our eyes and minds to how things are done differently in other parts of the world and share the benefits of their improved methods with our local population. While trying to achieve the best training for myself, I spent time in multiple countries, to experience first-hand the various treatment methods – and in doing so, I could fine-tune the best treatment regimes for my own patients.
While my peers took vacations for leisure, I travelled mainly to gain experiences from different eye hospitals around the world. I flew myself to China, Australia, Germany, Canada and the United States, each for about 2-4 weeks to experience what it was like in the various eye departments. I got to be involved in patient care and surgeries with the respective industry leaders in each country; and learned many pearls of wisdom from varying schools of thought.
After deciding that I wanted to pursue a fellowship in the United States where technology was cutting-edge, I spent almost 2 years in New York working under the mentorship of many well-respected pioneers in the field of Medical Retina. Following that, I was the first and only woman ever to receive the highly-coveted 1-year Surgical Retina Fellowship in Vancouver – something that I was proud to have achieved and hopefully paved the way for other females after me. Lastly, I spent some time in London, United Kingdom at the renowned Moorfields Eye Hospital, under the mentorship of one of the greatest minds in Retinal Electrophysiology.
Having experienced patient care and surgical treatments from all over the world, I was able to hone my skills, taking the best parts from each country and making it available to my patients in Singapore.
LC: What were some of the challenges you faced in building your own practice in Singapore?
CP: One of the greatest challenges was putting together a powerful team of dedicated and reliable nurses and optometrists. As an eye clinic, we rely on experienced optometrists who are able to get good vision readings and have a talent for acquiring quality eye images for our patients. We also thrive on passionate eye nurses who go the extra mile when tending to our patients. I was very fortunate to have worked with such individuals who were willing to build our practice together as a team.
Another challenge was obtaining the highest quality and technologically-advanced equipment for our eye centre. The field of ophthalmology requires multiple pieces of equipment to assess the health of different parts of the eye. Although a heavy investment, I personally believe that our patients should have access to the best equipment in order to achieve the most accurate diagnoses and receive the best treatments available.
LC: You’ve done a lot of work abroad for the underprivileged, where you provide free eye health services? Can you share a little more about that – where you’ve been, an interesting story or two and what sort of services you performed?
CP: I’ve been to rural areas of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, Cambodia to provide free eye care to the villagers who have no access to medical care in their area and are too poor or sick to afford travel to the city. Usually, we conduct general eye screening for the villagers and treat them with eyedrops and spectacles that we have brought over for them. For those who have cataracts that require surgery, we also perform free cataract surgery at the same time if the environmental conditions are safe enough to allow us to do so. We also supply sunglasses to the villagers through sponsorship and donations.
Interestingly, we see a lot of villagers with cataracts and pterygiums, which are related to high exposure to the ultraviolet rays of sunlight. We also see a lot of allergic conjunctivitis due to their exposure to sand and dust which is prevalent in their environment. We definitely see much less myopia in the villagers compared to Singaporeans because the nature of their lifestyle requires less reading or near-work.
The most gratifying part of such mission trips is seeing the villagers so happy after having their sight restored from blindness after a much-needed cataract surgery.
LC: What was the most interesting mission trip for you and why?
CP: The most interesting mission trip for me was to Siem Reap, Cambodia when I brought my entire family along with me, including my husband and 2 children aged 6 and 3 years old. I’ve always wanted to share the rewarding experience I got from such trips with my family and I was finally able to do so when Operation Hope Foundation together with Crib Society organised a family-friendly mission trip which allowed us to donate clothes and shoes to the village children at a local school, where we also built for them much-needed toilets, wells, water-filtration systems and a playground within the school grounds. My children got to interact with the local children and experience first-hand what life in Cambodia was like for these poorer children.
This December, I will be going to Cambodia again with my children and other families. We will be conducting vision eye screening for 400 local children and providing them with eyedrops and sunglasses.
LC: Can you share a bit more about the Asia Retina mobile app and how it works?
CP: The Asia Retina App is a free app that is open to the public to download. It has 5 key functions allowing users to:
- Perform easy-to-do self-assessment eye tests including visual acuity, colour vision, macular function and dry eye questionnaire.
- Make an appointment with the eye doctor for an eye check or reschedule any existing appointment through the app.
- Access eye-related news and articles giving useful health tips posted by Asia Retina.
- Create a personal profile that stores personal medical records and eye images for every visit to the eye doctor.
- Set up phone reminders to alert patients on when to put their eyedrops according to the prescribed schedule.
LC: Why do you think it is necessary to create this app?
CP: I wanted to raise awareness about taking care of our eyes, in particular, our retina – because I feel there’s a lack of general knowledge about the retina despite it being the most critical part of our visual pathway in the eye. Most people don’t realise that all our photoreceptors responsible for our vision are housed in the retina. It is, therefore, prudent to take good care of them and prevent retinal disease before it occurs. Many people also don’t realise that many eye conditions have little to no symptoms at their early stage so getting an annual eye screening is as important as getting an annual dental exam.
LC: What is a typical day for you?
CP: A typical day features my role as both eye doctor and mother to my two kids. In the morning after dropping both kids off at school, I get into the clinic at 9am to see my patients and perform procedures ranging from eye injections to eye lasers. At about 1pm, I break from the clinic to pick up my kids from half-day school. I spend about an hour or so with them, which covers a short run at the playground, having a quick lunch then driving them home for their bath and naptime.
I try to make it back to the clinic by 2pm to start the afternoon session or sometimes to the operating theatre for surgeries. (Yes, it helps to live close to work and school!)
I finish work by 6.30pm on most days and get home in time to have dinner and spend time with the kids again. Most days after dinner, the kids would ask to go out for a walk, so I take them to their favourite mall for a quick snack or play!
We’re usually back home in time for their bedtime at 10pm. Despite being a full-time working mother, my wish is to still be able to be ever present in my children’s lives so they never have to feel that they miss spending time with their mother.
LC: What advice would you share with a young woman considering joining the medical field?
CP: I would share that being a doctor is a rather large commitment. It is definitely not just a career, but really more of a way of life. I felt that after devoting myself to this profession, I had to be ready to serve and take care of my patients’ needs every single day, at any hour, whether or not I was on vacation or I had my own personal problems. It’s not a job I could put aside because there are always medical emergencies, urgent consultations (over the phone or email) and the unexpected medical queries from whoever I meet. On the flip side, it is truly rewarding and meaningful to be able to make patients feel better and happier. Every day I’m able to feel that I’ve made a difference in someone else’s life and that is probably what keeps me going when times are rough.
LC: Dr Pang, can you share some eye care tips and advice with our readers?
CP: I advise the following do’s and don’ts to all my patients:
- Take frequent breaks between work – Look 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes.
- Work near a window so you get natural sunlight and you get to look out the window frequently.
- Use sunglasses when you under direct sun exposure
- Adjust your computer display settings so they are more comfortable for your eyes.
- Get your eyes checked with an eye doctor yearly.
- Rub your eyes as that can bring about astigmatism, cataracts and even retinal detachment.
- Look directly into the sun or any other laser pointer beams.
- Use your electronic device at night in a completely darkened room.
- Self-medicate with steroids (eye drops, creams, inhalers, nasal sprays or supplements) without a doctor’s prescription.
- Smoke – smoking increases your risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.
LC: Is it worth taking supplements like lutein for vision health?
CP: Yes, lutein is a retinal pigment that is important for our macular health. It has been shown in large studies to be beneficial for people with age-related macular degeneration for slowing down the progression of their disease.
At the same time, it has been shown in smaller research studies to improve visual performance, sleep quality and lessen physical fatigue in people with high screen time exposure. I would definitely recommend taking foods naturally rich in lutein such as green leafy vegetables and encourage taking supplements with lutein for those who need a higher dose.