Rising to the challenge as CEO of medical centre


WHEN Dr Chong Su-Lin was first approached by Sunway Medical Centre Bhd to become its chief executive officer in 2000, she was pretty reluctant to accept the job. 

“I felt that I was not ready to take on such a huge responsibility,” she told StarBiz

However, time has proven otherwise as under her guidance, the medical centre, which was launched in 2001, is now recognised as one of the major players in the industry. 

Chong Su-Lin

“When I joined the organisation, it was going through a lot of changes with some senior management leaving.  

“There was a lot of groundwork to be done – trying to stabilise and get the management group on their feet, putting in systems, work flows and processes,” she said. 

However, all her hard work has paid off and her team of managers and unit heads are now confident and self-motivated managers.  

“We also plan to break even this financial year ending Dec 31, 2003,” she said, adding that it took an average of five to six years to break even in the industry. 

Chong studied medicine in the Royal Free School of Medicine, which was part of the University of London.  

She graduated in 1984 and worked in the National Health Service (NHS) in Britain until 1990 before bravely leaving medicine to continue her studies for an MBA in London Business School. 

“The first six months of the course was very traumatic for me as I had always been focused on medicine and knew nothing about business principles, accounting and economics. 

“That was also the time when personal computers started to become popular and I didn't even know how to turn one on to use for my assignments!” she explained. 

Chong was still in the midst of her specialist training in radiotherapy and oncology when she left medicine.  

“I got a bit bored in NHS, running clinics day in and day out. Minds can shut down in such a situation and my worry was that I might miss something in my patients,” she said, adding that it was a difficult decision to make. 

After her MBA, she worked as a management consultant in health economics in the UK before coming back to Malaysia in 1995 when she joined the Subang Jaya Medical Centre.  

She was then headhunted to join the International Medical University and later Sunway Medical Centre in December 2000. 

Of baba and nyonya heritage, Chong said her parents were her inspiration.  

“They were very liberal and allowed me to stand on my own two feet. I remember telling my dad in the garden one evening that I wanted to give up medicine.  

“He was very understanding and told me that I should give it up if I was not happy,” she said, adding that her mother was supportive as well so there was no huge family row on the subject. 

Reminiscing about her days in medicine, Chong remembers delivering her first baby as a fourth year medical student.  

“I knew babies are not delivered nice and clean, but there was more blood than I thought there would be,” she said. 

She also remembered the first time she almost fainted during an emergency leg amputation when she saw the amputated part being carried out by a technician.  

“Of course, it was two in the morning and I had not eaten all day long,” she said, adding that it was normal to work up to 160 hours a week. 

Chong admitted that after all these years, she still jumped when she heard the beeping at traffic lights or the first ring of the telephone as it reminded her of her beeper in her days as a doctor. 

Describing herself as a workaholic, she said: “Sometimes my ideas come too fast and people cannot keep up with me – this is characteristic of a rat, my Chinese zodiac sign,” she quipped. 

Having said that, Chong insisted that work must also be reasonably fun.  

“After 6.30 in the evening, when everything is quiet, I'll take off my shoes and tramp all over the place in the office, be silly and de-stress with the team,” she said. 

She is also a bit of an exercise freak – she swims and has recently taken up yoga.  

“I also like to cook and entertain people at home. My mum is a very good cook and specialises in local nyonya dishes while my specialities are western dishes as it gives me an excuse to buy cheese and wine which I love,” she said. 

Besides being a CEO, Chong joked that her other job was as a zookeeper.  

Chong's father, former Health and Transport Minister Tan Sri Dr Chong Hon Nyan, is a bird lover.  

“Besides having 30 birds, we also have two dogs, two rabbits, two kittens and a pondful of fish. I normally give them their breakfast in the morning before going to work,” she said, adding that there would be no chance of oversleeping as the birds would be screaming for food at 10 minutes to seven everyday like clockwork. 

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