How I’m Making It is a weekly series in which Tatler speaks to influential individuals about their unique journeys and what keeps them going.
Did you know that only approximately five per cent of orthopaedic surgeons in the United States are women, according to a report by the Association of American Medical Colleges? This means that it is the lowest percentage of female representation in any medical speciality out there.
In fact, not only is Dr Tan Sok Chuen one of only two female private orthopaedic surgeons in Singapore. She is also the only female hip and knee surgeon in Singapore and has defied all the odds to set up her own private practice, Hip & Knee Orthopaedics in the middle of a pandemic.
However, Dr Tan was not always this confident of her space in the profession.
In fact, in her early days in the field, she had many patients and superiors who would pass her up on opportunities, ignore her opinions and make dirty jokes.
Sometimes, she even had patients who would outrightly tell her they prefer a male doctor and would openly doubt her abilities.
"I simply had to learn to ignore them. I learnt to be confident in my own abilities without being reliant on another’s approval. I think physically I am already stronger than most girls, and maybe even some guys. I make up for my 'physical' deficiencies by accumulating more knowledge, and experience. And I think that hard work has paid off in the long run. Because after all, surgery is more about knowledge and experience," said Dr Tan.
True enough, Dr Tan has surely shored up a wealth of information with her grit and her deep desire to continuously learn and improve herself desire all the odds stacked against her.
Dr Tan graduated from the National University of Singapore in 2004 with a medical degree. When she completed her post-graduate training and examinations, she was conferred the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgery.
At that point, Dr Tan decided to sub-specialise in hip and knee surgery and did her clinical fellowship in 2016 at Hip & Knee Surgery at Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre in the United Kingdom. She also managed to complete a clinical fellowship at the London Health Sciences Centre in Canada.
However, the road to reaching her eventual dream of becoming an orthopaedic surgeon was far from easy. In fact, the doctor had to endure many long hours of procedures that required her to move, manipulate and hold heavy parts of patients steadily while doing her job.
Wanting to still have a child despite her demanding professions, Dr Tan even at one point, put her fellowship on hold because of how much radiation exposure happens in her line of work. It was not conducive to her pregnancy and so she decided to stop for a while.