Hubert Burda Media

Dr Loh May-Han: On Rules, Work and Couple Time

DR LOH MAY-HAN made rule-following her lifelong mantra and possibly her most endearing quirk

If there is one thing that Dr Loh May-Han avoids doing, it’s jaywalking. The doctor confesses that it causes her too much stress. “I would rather walk to the nearest traffic light or overhead bridge to cross. That’s how much of a ‘by the rules’ kind of person I am,” she divulges with a chuckle.
While Loh’s rule-abiding philosophy does nothing for the art of jaywalking, it’s the key to success in her chosen medical specialty, anaesthesia — a field that demands precision, accuracy to guidelines and attention to detail.
According to the National University Hospital anaesthetist, specialists in this field play a key role in patient safety. Present at all medical surgeries, she provides anaesthesia intervention, ranging from sedation at the radiological suite to inducing general anaesthesia in the operating theatre. Throughout each procedure, she monitors the patient’s vital parameters and maintains an appropriate level of drugs.
Loh landed in the medical field quite literally. During a gymnastics practice session, the then 13-year-old CHIJ St Nicholas Girls’ School student lost her grip on the parallel bars and fell. While undergoing surgery for a broken bone and a dislocated bone, Loh was impressed by the professional healthcare team from the now-defunct Toa Payoh Hospital. The experience played a key role when she started toying with the idea of doing medicine.
But she kept her intentions quiet. Loh’s mother shares: “Growing up, May-Han never indicated that she wanted to be a doctor. So it was an unexpected surprise to see her get into medical school. We’re, of course, extremely proud as she’s the first doctor in the family.”
Of her career choice, Loh says: “In school, I did well in life sciences and I’ve always enjoyed talking to people. It encouraged me to apply for the medical faculty at the National University of Singapore (NUS),” she says.
After graduating in 2001 and completing the mandatory placements in different specialities, Loh initially considered pursuing obstetrics and gynaecology but eventually chose anaesthesiology, fuelled by the fact that it gave her insight into the human anatomy as a whole.
“Also, my lecturer Associate Professor Raymond Goy enticed me to choose anaesthesia by saying that [anaesthetists] are allowed to go off-duty after being on call for 24 hours. It worked!” she jests.
Once decided, Loh pursued her career path with characteristic resolve, receiving her Master of Medicine in Anaesthesiology in 2011. She made the Anaesthesiology Specialist Register two years later.
Fourteen years on, Loh says she enjoys every moment of being a doctor. Yes, even when she gets yelled at.
But, she adds, it only usually happens when she is practising obstetric anaesthesia, where her patients are already experiencing immense labour pain. True to her unflappable nature, Loh takes it in her stride. “I know they don’t mean it,” she says.
Like the patient who recently had a labour epidural followed by anaesthesia for her caesarean section. After an initial outburst at everyone — including her husband and Loh — she eventually thanked the doctor for her patience during the baby’s delivery.
Loh also lectures and conducts tutorials at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, an experience she describes as very rewarding, such as the time a student thanked her for her clear teaching style, or when they ask her to be their mentor.
Loh is also helping to train future doctors. She is on the Anaesthesia Curriculum Development committee at the school, which plans the curriculum and sets exam questions for fourth-year medical students and assesses their performance.
Loh’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. For her unwavering passion and commitment, the doctor was awarded the Singapore Society of Anaesthesiologists’ Cares Award in 2012. She also won the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine Undergraduate Teacher of the Year for Anaesthesia in academic year 2014/5. More notably, she clinched the National University Health System Academic Medicine Development Award 2013/2014, which saw her posted to Perth for a six-month fellowship in obstetric anaesthesia at the King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women.
Being away from her husband, Dr Adrian Ng, and her family proved to be a positive experience for Loh. “I learnt to be more independent and more adaptable to my surroundings. The pace in Perth was much slower than Singapore so I learnt to take life slowly,” she says.
“In Perth, I attended Pilates class thrice weekly. Here? Even once a week is a challenge,” she says with a hint of frustration. “At times, I do miss the pace of life [in the Australian city].”
But Loh’s grouse is only momentary. Ng, her husband of 12 years, reveals: “My wife is passionate about her work. She sees it as an opportunity to extend kindness to the people she comes into contact with. When she moved back [from Perth], she switched right back into ‘Singapore mode’.” Ng, himself an anaesthetist in private practice, was Loh’s senior at medical school.
He reveals it was love at first sight. Tipping his chin towards his wife fondly, Ng shares: “I first saw her in the library and talked to her on the pretext of not understanding a topic. She was one of the popular girls. Did you know that some boys actually started a Loh May-Han fan club?”
Not surprisingly, the couple’s shared speciality has its pros and cons, with the biggest pro of having equally unpredictable schedules. “We don’t give each other a hard time when it comes to that,” Loh says. “I also like that we can bounce ideas off each other. When I face a certain challenge, I’d sometimes ask myself: What would Adrian do?”
As for cons, Loh admits that they get carried away when talking about work. Which is why out of scrubs, the couple makes it a point to do things utterly unrelated to their jobs, such as attending the “fun stuff” — fashion events, birthday dinners and fundraising galas — and catching up with friends from non-medical industries.
“We doctors can get boring, you know?” Loh jokes self-deprecatingly. “It’s nice to be in a different environment and meet people from other walks of life.”
Spending quality time with their parents is another way the couple destresses. “Having a simple meal with them is a good way of catching up. May-Han has always enjoyed home-cooked soups, such as my chicken abalone soup,” says her mother.
The svelte doctor is also quite the style maven. Favouring solid colours and clean silhouettes (from labels such as Valentino), the self-assured fashionista shares: “I love going through all the various collections, even though some may be too loud for me. But I know what looks good on me and what doesn’t.”
When the couple wants to completely disconnect, they swap the (operating) theatre for travel. They were recently in Lombardy and Tuscany, where they frolicked in the sun and navigated its cobbled streets. “We’ve been going to Italy every year since 2009. We love the food and shopping,” says Loh. “We try to go to Europe and the US yearly. If I’ve limited leave, we visit nearer countries such as Hong Kong and Japan.”
Just as she constantly improves herself at work, Loh uses play time for self-reflection and contemplation.
“Travel broadens the mind and teaches you to be open to new things. I’ve this philosophy — see something good, adopt it to your life,” she says. “If it’s not, be thankful for what you already have at home.”