Cover Photo: Dr Claudine Pang

As an internationally recognised retinal eye surgeon who runs her own eye clinic and founded a non-profit organisation, Dr Claudine Pang is truly making it work. We find out how she gets it all done while being a mother of two young kids

We only have 24 hours in a day but with a little organisation and focus, we can achieve a lot within this time.

Dr Claudine Pang, an internationally recognised retinal eye surgeon who runs her own eye clinic, is a stellar example of someone who makes full use of her time. She has founded a non-profit organisation, Eye Care Without Borders, written a book and still manages to be around for her two young children every day.

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While many of us like to take our time to figure out what we are really passionate about and what will fuel us in terms of a career, Pang had it all figured out from a very young age and knew what she would have to do to get to her goal of helping the less fortunate. 

“I was always interested in charity work from a young age. In my school days, I used to give weekly tuition at a children’s home and volunteer at the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) and at an old folks home. In fact, one of the main reasons I wanted to do medicine was to provide medical care in underdeveloped countries where access to medical care is lacking,” she shared. 

Pang got to work making that dream happen and in 2004, she graduated with a Double Bachelor in Medicine and Surgery (MBBS) from the National University of Singapore.

She started work in the ophthalmology department at the Singapore National Eye Centre where she worked for eight years while working towards her post-graduate degrees in Ophthalmology.

It was during this time that she also earned a membership to the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh (MRCSED), Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh (FRCSED) and Fellowship of the Academy of Medicine, Singapore (FAMS).

However, all that was not enough for the ambitious doctor.

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In fact, Pang even travelled to New York where she completed an 18-month fellowship at the renowned Vitreous-Retina-Macula Consultants of New York, Manhattan Eye Ear and Throat Hospital.

Shortly after, Pang became the first woman in the world to receive the highly coveted William H. Ross Surgical Vitreoretinal Fellowship at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

With 13 years of ophthalmology experience behind her, Dr Pang decided it was time to venture out on her own and that’s when she established Asia Retina Eye Surgery Centre in 2018.

She wanted to be able to provide quality eye care to her patients in a way that was more attentive and personalised and figured that a private practice would give her just that along with the flexibility to care for her young children. 

Of course, in all this, Pang never forgot why she went into medicine in the first place.

In fact, for years, she has been strongly advocating family mission trips where she brings her children to help underprivileged people in under-developed countries.

She also organises many medical mission trips with the entire Asia Retina Eye Surgery Centre team so they can perform cataract surgery and screen the eyes of villagers who might not have access to proper eye care. 

In 2019, Pang decided to expand her efforts and founded Eye Care Without Borders, a non-profit organisation that aims to provide eye care and eyewear for people in underprivileged societies in Singapore as well as in other developing countries.

Together with Beyond Social Services, Pang and her team are able to look at the challenges that the underprivileged in Singapore face regarding their eye care and to help them out.

“It has always been a dream of mine to start an eyecare charity. My team and I had been doing regular trips to Cambodia and Nepal to give free eye care before this, so it was a natural and necessary progression to consolidate our charity efforts into a non-profit charity,” Pang said before adding that her team has been able to help about 3,000 people locally and in underdeveloped countries so far. 

Besides helping the less fortunate in society, Pang is also passionate about creating better eye care in Singapore and improving people’s habits as well as encouraging them to recognise eye-related problems and to get them solved before they become worse. 

“I wanted to create better eye awareness in Singapore, and I thought to myself what better way than to put it in a book. I wanted to compile a list of the most common eye concerns (common questions that my patients ask me) and empower the public with the knowledge of what to expect and when to seek help in a nutshell guide,” Pang explained.

“Hopefully, this book will make people aware of the potential eye conditions that could affect us, especially the possibilities of silent eye diseases that make an annual eye check a must-do for all, even for those without any symptoms,” she continued while adding that the book was a labour of love for about two years. 

This October, in conjunction with Vision Awareness Month and World Sight Day which falls on October 14, Pang’s book, Eye Care For All, was finally launched with proceeds from the sale of the hardcover book going towards the efforts of Eye Care Without Borders.

The book currently can be purchased at Kinokuniya bookstores as well at selected Mobil and Esso outlets. They will also be available in Times and Popular bookstores from November and can be purchased online here.

While Pang's work-life certainly seems full and hectic, this supermum somehow still finds the time to stay on top of her children’s lives and their school work. In fact, she drops and picks her kids up from school herself, ferries them to enrichment classes and ensures that she helps them with their schoolwork so they do not fall behind. 

Below, Peng shares how she does it all in her own words. 

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What is a typical morning like for you?

Claudine Pang (CP): Every morning after getting the kids to school, I go for a half-hour 5km run before showering and heading to work. I usually skip breakfast because I believe in intermittent fasting. My first meal is at 2 pm and I try to have my last meal by 9 pm. 

What does a standard workday look like for you?

CP: My standard workday is a juggle between work and chauffeuring my kids to and from school and enrichment classes. My schedule is meticulously planned out such that all patients are seen during the morning and afternoon sessions, leaving my lunch hour to pick up the kids and spend some time with them.

It can get a little hectic at times, but I still insist on picking the kids up myself because I like that the first person they see after school is me. If something significant happens in school, I’m the first to know. I believe in being present in their lives despite being a full-time working mom, and I’m fortunate that owning a private practice allows me that flexibility.

What time do you usually have lunch? What do you usually have for lunch?

CP: My lunch is usually at 2 pm, after picking the kids up. My regular lunch order is a poke bowl with salmon, cucumber, tomatoes, corn, pineapple, pomegranate and quinoa.

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How would you describe your working style?

CP: With my patients, I'm both empathetic and a perfectionist. I think patients always come to me with an agenda and my job is to figure out what would make them feel better. Sometimes, just allowing them to offload their stress or anxiety is all it takes. At the same time, I’m pretty obsessed with getting the perfect visual outcome for each patient. Since every patient to me is a responsibility and I strive to get the best result for each one.

With my team, I believe in giving them autonomy and independence. I don’t like to micro-manage so I delegate tasks to them, empower them with the training or tools they need and trust that they will get the job done. There is a lot of mutual respect in a way that everyone in the team is equally valued with little hierarchy.

Free time: Overrated or underrated? Why?

CP: Overrated. I love to fill my day with activities and tasks. If I have any free time, I’d choose to spend it with my kids.

How do you achieve a work-life balance? How do you set boundaries?

CP: I believe that we need to be happy in our personal lives to be able to give the best in our work. So I make sure I get my daily workouts in because that’s what gives me the confidence to carry on the rest of the day.

I also believe in setting aside time to spend with the people I care about because maintaining deep relationships do require effort. So I allocate weekly time slots to catch up with the important people in my life, no matter how busy work gets.

What is the best piece of advice that you have ever gotten?

CP: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

What is an idea/ thought that you had recently, that you thought was interesting?

CP: Interestingly, it’s not our possessions that make us material, but rather our fear of losing them.

How do you unplug?

CP: A long bubble bath with a glass of Dr Loosen’s Spatlese Reisling in hand and an Ed Sheeran playlist.

How do you stay grounded?

CP: Gravity. Also, the time I spend in underdeveloped countries really lets me appreciate the simpler things in life. Without luxuries and Wifi, the days are spent on human interactions instead of internet distractions. I find it is easier to find contentment in simple pleasures and that is what keeps me grounded.

How do you prioritise tasks?

CP: Anything that is life or death, sight-saving, or directly affects someone else’s wellbeing comes first.

What is the last thing you do before you go to bed?

CP: Tuck my older one into bed and snuggle up with my younger one.

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