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Photo: Ong Siong Gim

Father-Son Paediatricians: Same Genes, Same Calling, Same Hospital, Same Voice!

Seen on the internet:

A father said to his son, "Be carfeul where you walk."
The son responded, "You be careful, remember that I follow in your footsteps."

There's no better father-son duo to illustrate this scenario than Associate Professor Ong Hian Tat, Head of Division of Paediatric Neurology, and Senior Consultant at Department of Paediatrics, National University Hospital (NUH), and his son, Dr Ong Siong Gim, a medical officer with the Department of Paediatrics, also at NUH.

Assoc Prof Ong, 58, specialises in treating children who have problems with their nervous system, while Dr Ong, 26, is interested in clinical and academic research, and hopes to become a paediatric clinician scientist.

In early 2020, Dr Ong was also on the frontlines fighting COVID-19 not only in the Emergency Medicine Department but also as a medical officer when he was called back to the army, helping to swab patients suspected of having COVID-19.

When asked if he encouraged or steered his son into being a paediatrician like himself, Assoc Prof Ong replied with these sage words: "I encourage my children to pursue their own interests, as it is only their own interests that can continue to serve as the impetus for them to carry on despite the setbacks and failures in any long term career."

Dr Ong admits that his father's job may have subconsciously influenced his decision to become a paediatrician himself. "However, ultimately, I developed interest in the area, which was why I chose to pursue a career in paediatrics," he says.

Photo: Ong Siong Gim

Both father and son developed an interest in paediatrics after their postings to their respective paediatric units. For Assoc Prof, that was more than 30 years ago at Singapore General Hospital, while the younger Dr Ong was posted to the Department of Paediatrics at NUH in 2018, during his third year of medical school.

Ahead of Father's Day, we ask Dr Ong what's the most important lesson he's learnt from his father. "That medicine is both a calling and a sacrifice," he says. "To a certain extent, it is inevitable that we will have to sacrifice our work-life balance, as a patient’s wellbeing should come first."

We can't help but wonder: Isn't it stressful working in the same office as your dad? You'd think so, right? Thankfully, that isn't the case for Dr Ong.

"Although we are in the same department, we rarely meet each other unless we are in the same team. That occurred for about a week last year," he says.

"My colleagues tell me that my voice is very similar to his, hence there have been a few times when I was talking as I walked into the ward, and a few teams would pop their heads out assuming my father had arrived!"


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