Father and son, Dr Wong Sen Chow and Dr Mark Wong are both general surgeons. We spoke about supportive families, common callings, the exchange of knowledge and promising advances in the detection and treatment of colorectal cancer.
My Alvernia:Did you actively influence your son Mark to study medicine and pursue the specialty of colorectal surgery?
Dr Wong Sen Chow:Not at all. Though when he decided to study medicine at university, I suppose I must have been a great influence. He always shared my interest in surgery, and I was very proud and happy when he finally decided to subspecialise in colorectal surgery.
My Alvernia:How great an influence was your father in your career choices?
Dr Mark Wong:My father is my mentor and inspiration and has always been the biggest influence in my career. Being a doctor is a noble calling and I am blessed to have this opportunity to treat the sick and even more fortunate to share this journey and to be mentored by my father, a role model like no other.
My Alvernia:What other factors influenced your choice of subspecialty?
Dr Mark Wong:The high prevalence of colorectal cancer, being the number one cancer in Singapore, was one of the main reasons I pursued colorectal surgery. The opportunity to utilise technology to enhance patient outcomes was another reason.
My Alvernia:As a child, young adult and medical student, what impressed you most about your father’s work?
Dr Mark Wong:Dad is tireless and dedicated to his craft. I remember the long hours he spent at work, which made our daily morning car rides to school that much more precious. Mum and I spent six months with him in London during his Fellowship, and I remember being fascinated by the goings-on at his workplace. This sparked my interest in medicine during those early years.
As I grew older, I appreciated his work even more as I followed him to the hospital on weekends for ward rounds and observed his interactions with hospital staff. What I always remember even to this day was his advice to “always treat everyone with respect”, and I admired how he seemed to know everyone in the hospital, from fellow doctors to the hospital attendants and security staff. This is Dad – a gifted and humble surgeon who is a friend to all.
When I eventually entered medical school and had the opportunity to scrub in with him in the operating room, I truly found my calling as I witnessed first hand the work of a master surgeon. Hearing doctors around me praising my father only made me even more determined to walk in his footsteps.
My Alvernia:What advances have you witnessed first-hand in your field?
Dr Wong Sen Chow:The advances were early detection of colorectal cancer through the testing of stool samples for occult blood and the use of colonoscopy – both diagnostic and advanced therapeutics.
Now, we have minimally invasive, or laparoscopic surgery, which reduces post surgery pain significantly and allows patients to go home much earlier. With the latest advances in robotic surgery, the very low rectal cancers can be excised, often avoiding the need for permanent colostomies.
With improved chemoradiation, advanced cancers can be treated and survival rates increased.
Dr Mark Wong:In surgery, the fundamental principles do not change and I am grateful and blessed to have been guided and trained by my father and other luminaries of his generation.
The foundation that my father’s generation has laid and their pioneering work has since allowed me to benefit from the subsequent advances in surgical techniques. It is on the proverbial shoulders of giants that I stand and without the work of my dad and predecessors alike, it would not be possible to translate these advances to improved patient outcomes.
As Dad mentioned, keyhole or laparoscopic surgery is now the standard-of-care for colorectal cancer treatment. Using finer instruments with greater precision, patients are benefitting from smaller wounds and faster recovery times. Robotic surgery marks the next step in the evolution of colorectal cancer treatment and I have trained in Europe on this technique and seen improved outcomes for our patients.
My Alvernia:Do you share knowledge and collaborate on cases?
Dr Wong Sen Chow:We have been doing major cases together. Seeing my son operating on more complex cases, and with great confidence, is a source of great pleasure for me. In fact, we senior chaps learn a lot of new things from the younger surgeons.
Dr Mark Wong:When I am working on complex cases, I especially value Dad’s decades of experience. We then combine this with modern surgical techniques to develop a treatment plan that gives our patients the best outcomes.
It is an indescribable feeling to operate with one’s own father. It is an incredibly proud and yet humbling moment to perform life-saving procedures with your biggest mentor and being able to call him ‘Dad’ at the same time.
My Alvernia:Over the years, how has the love and support of your family helped you focus on work and build your career?
Dr Wong Sen Chow:The support of the family, especially my good wife, has been very important in my career. I have spent many long hours away from home and hence missed quite a number of family gatherings.
Dr Mark Wong:God and family have made it all possible. Mum and my wife have been the rocks of the family and have allowed Dad and myself to flourish in our careers because of their unconditional love and support. It is amazing how they have tolerated the frequent dinner table talk about ‘blood and guts’ all these years!
My Alvernia:What gives you the greatest satisfaction and happiness in your working life?
Dr Wong Sen Chow:My greatest satisfaction comes from seeing patients doing well and going home.
Dr Mark Wong:Working with Dad is one of life’s most rewarding experiences. The opportunity to collaborate and discuss cases with my father is truly gratifying. Personally, one of my greatest sources of satisfaction is seeing how proud he is of me as we walk together in the hospital. I am even more proud to stand beside a renowned and loved surgeon and to be able to call him ‘Dad’.
My Alvernia:What is your advice to readers on protecting themselves against colorectal cancer?
Dr Mark Wong:The key is early detection through screening. Doing a colonoscopy can save one’s life as this technique allows us to identify polyps and remove them and thus stop the cancer from developing. Eating a healthy and balanced diet with regular exercise is also important, but there are no guarantees. Hence, everyone should still undergo a colonoscopy once they reach 45 years of age, even if they are well.
Do your colonoscopy! Start at the age of 45 years old or 10 years before the first diagnosis of colorectal cancer in your family, whichever is earlier.
Dr Mark Wong
Mark Wong Surgery
Medical Centre A #02-03