In conjunction with the International Women’s Day—a global event celebrated on 8 March annually—MIMS Today’s editorial desk is proud to present seven profoundly inspiring stories for the entire month of March. Putting forward the notion that “women are healers”, we bring to you our #HealsInHeels special feature—capturing a month of amazing, empowering stories—dedicated to our women in healthcare.

Our highlights of Part 1 are four leading women in healthcare who have contributed to the country’s firsts, who are inspiration to many and who are making waves in the healthcare industry. They are showing the world that they are women of worth—symbolising a #WOW force of nature not to be meddled with. Next on the hot seat of our #WOW series is none other than Dr Chong Su-Lin, Chief Executive Officer of IMU Healthcare.

Dr Chong has always wanted to be a doctor, with no thoughts of ever being in the business sector. Photo credit: IMU
Dr Chong has always wanted to be a doctor, with no thoughts of ever being in the business sector. Photo credit: IMU

One on one with Dr Chong Su-Lin

Graduated in 1984 from the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine, London, Dr Chong began her medical career in the National Health Service (NHS), UK. While in the midst of her specialty training in radiotherapy and oncology, she found herself searching for other options—and that was when she decided to pursue her Masters in Business Administration (MBA) at the London Business School, in 1990.

Upon completing her MBA, Dr Chong worked as a management consultant in health economics in the UK, before returning to Malaysia in 1995. Since returning to her home country after living abroad for many years, Dr Chong has always been in the healthcare business, where she has held several top positions in managing hospitals—helping them to grow.

Dr Chong’s diverse repertoire of experiences—acquired throughout her career—has seen her holding some of the senior management roles, including CEO of Sunway Medical Centre for 11 years, CEO of Prince Court Medical Centre for five years and Executive Director of Beacon International Specialist Centre, a specialist cancer care provider. She was recently appointed as Chief Executive Officer of IMU Healthcare.

1. Tell us about your journey, what was the turning point that made you switch from working in the hospital to pursuing MBA?
I loved medical practice. The acute medicine, seeing patients in ER, tracking them through their hospital stay, seeing them through their illness, and working with the healthcare team—was really fun. Exhausting, but fun. Those were the days before there was any legislation about working hours; and we would do 120 – 140 hours per week. It taught me to be resilient and built up my stamina.

But, as you climb the ladder, it became (for me at least) less exciting—because I had to leave the juniors to the acute work whilst I as the senior, had to do more of the outpatient based work, which I found quite dull. I also realised that to climb the ladder further, I would have to take on research. And then I realised I was simply not cut out for that (to do a research-based doctorate). So, when a colleague suggested that I should explore an MBA—I did! And it was the biggest challenge of my life! [Smiles] To do financial accounting, economics, organisational behaviour—when all I knew was lungs, kidneys and heart! [Laughs]

2. What is your biggest motivation and inspiration, especially to really be involved in the healthcare business?
As a clinical practitioner, you change lives one life at a time. In a healthcare business, there is an opportunity to change many lives at the same time—lives of your colleagues, lives of the patients who come to the hospital—and make a larger impact. But, this is me talking with hindsight. All I know is that when I did fall into medical management, I found it fun—and I discovered that I was reasonably good at it! [Smiles]

And this was a result of having some great mentors—particularly my first mentor, Mr Mack Banner, who was CEO at Subang Jaya Medical Centre (SJMC). He was the one who brought me in as a management trainee. He had a programme called “Administrative Residency”, which allowed me to learn hospital management from the ground up.

3. How would you describe the involvement of women in our healthcare scene?
The healthcare sector is actually taking the lead in this, as it has significantly more female participation than other sectors. Having said that, I would still like to see more women at the top. It’s true we have them at lower to mid manager levels; but somehow, we don’t have many who become CEOs or Directors. A significant percentage of female healthcare workers are in the nursing profession. At the moment, nursing is still at a Diploma level; and I have not seen too many who progress further from mid-manager level. This is possibly because they don’t have further experience or qualifications in the larger environment of finance, business management. And this might also be related to time and cost. Time, because the person is likely to have family responsibilities to juggle, while cost is because few organisations will sponsor the manager to undertake the upskilling programmes.

Dr Chong (left) at the IMU Hospital Groundbreaking Ceremony on 14 December 2017. Photo credit: IMU News
Dr Chong (left) at the IMU Hospital Groundbreaking Ceremony on 14 December 2017. Photo credit: IMU News

4. Was there any particular point in time (throughout your career), which marks your proudest moment as a woman (in healthcare)?
I wouldn’t say the ‘proudest moment’—but, I do remember the time spent in the ‘Healthcare Lab’ as being very interesting. This was the National Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) in 2010, and healthcare was one of the 12 national key economic areas. I was asked to be ‘lab leader’—and it was remarkable to have the conversations and joint business development between private and public sector players. A wonderful experience that was, to be able to participate in a national project.

5. Any advice or words of wisdom to those who aspire to follow your footsteps?
I learned about ‘passion’ when I was turned down for a job. I had met with Dame Cecily Saunders, the founder of the Hospice movement in UK—and said I wanted to go into palliative care. After asking about my interests etc, she told me quite frankly, that I should not go into this area of service—as it was a ‘fall-back’ option I had chosen; and it was not clear that I was truly passionate about this area. So really, if you’re not passionate about the work you do, then go look for something that will really get you up in the morning!

Also, never stop learning—and a lot of this comes from ‘active listening’. When we really listen to, and engage with people—whether someone we’ve just met or one of your own colleagues—it is amazing how much you can learn. It’s fun at the same time!

Passionate about making a difference

Dr Chong shares the same concerns as most of the healthcare professionals regarding the general health of the nation. The biggest challenge for them would be changing mindsets and translating knowledge into practice and behaviours. “For instance, there’s been so much research and knowledge about obesity-related diabetes and its impact on overall health. And yet, you still see people ignoring their medications, taking no notice of the dietary guidelines about food—ultimately, finding themselves with uncontrolled diabetes and all its complications. But, healthcare managers also have to ask themselves what their roles are: is it purely to ensure that share prices and bottom lines are healthy? Shouldn’t their primary objective be to commit to clinical care and patient health?” asks Dr Chong.

Sharing about what’s coming up in the pipeline, Dr Chong intends to start mentoring a whole community of healthcare professionals not just on ‘how to be a good doctor’ academically—but, also to instil the core value of ‘why are you in this profession – and how can you make a difference’.

Dr Chong went from being a practising medical doctor to being one of the top women in healthcare business. She is a prime example that as a doctor, the passion to improve lives never goes away—and it is certainly not a one-way path. MIMS

“If you’re not passionate about the work you do, then go look for something that will really get you up in the morning!” – Dr Chong Su-Lin

Make sure to check back on 21 March for more inspiring stories of our #WOW leading women in healthcare who #DareTo challenge the status quo. Receive the latest updates when you sign up for a free MIMS account!

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