M’sian surgeon scores top post

Universiti Malaya emeritus professor Datuk Dr Yip Cheng-Har

Newly elected international surgical society president aims to improve outcomes for patients

UNIVERSITI Malaya (UM) emeritus professor Datuk Dr Yip Cheng-Har (pic) is a trailblazer in many respects.

She had been the first female lecturer and first female head of surgery at the UM Department of Surgery, and the first female surgeon to be appointed the president of the College of Surgeons of Malaysia – the list does not stop there.

More recently, the consultant breast surgeon became the first Malaysian, as well as the first woman, to be elected the president of the International Society of Surgery (ISS).

Founded in 1902, the ISS is a 3,000-member organisation providing surgeons worldwide with opportunities to share techniques and outcomes of new surgical procedures, enhancing international teaching in both general and specialised surgery.

Dr Yip, who was formally installed as the president during the International Surgical Week (ISW) held in Austria from Aug 15 to 18, will serve the role until 2024.

“As the ISS president, my role is to bring surgeons from around the world together to learn from each other with the aim of improving surgical outcomes for our patients,” she told StarEdu, adding that there are over five billion people, especially in low- and middle-income countries, without access to safe, affordable surgical and anaesthesia care.

The next ISW, she shared, will be hosted by the ISS in Malaysia in 2024.

The biannual conference is typically attended by over 2,000 surgeons worldwide, and is aimed at enhancing networking and promoting bilateral collaborations, including opportunities for local surgeons to seek placements for further training overseas.

According to Dr Yip, there is a mismatch of surgeons in Malaysia, where 60% are in private practice, while the remaining 40% in government hospitals are unequally distributed between urban and rural areas.

“The lifespan of a surgeon in academia is usually about five years. The challenge is to keep them in government service, so we have to train more surgeons.

“For breast surgery, the future is bright as there is ongoing training of the next generation of breast surgeons who are doing more technically-challenging surgeries with new techniques of oncoplastic breast surgery and minimally invasive breast surgery,” she said.

Recalling her journey in the traditionally male-dominated surgical field, Dr Yip said she started out as a medical student in UM in the 1970s at a time when there were only three female general surgeons in the whole country and none in the teaching hospital where she was a student.

“When I pursued my surgical training, many expected me to give up and pursue a different speciality, as they did not consider me tough enough for a surgeon,” she shared.The challenges along the way did not deter Dr Yip as she went on to obtain her specialist certification from the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons of Glasgow, and her sub-specialisation training in breast surgery in the Royal Liverpool Hospital – both in the United Kingdom.

In 1993, Dr Yip started the breast clinic at Universiti Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) when the hospital purchased its first mammogram machine.

“At that time, we had no oncology unit, so I also did the diagnosis, surgery, chemotherapy, and end-of-life care, and referred my patients to Hospital Kuala Lumpur for radiotherapy, when needed,” she shared.

Dr Yip, who has gained multiple international recognition, has also contributed an immense amount of research on breast cancer in high-impact publications.

“When we started the clinic, we also started a hospital-based breast cancer registry, which now has over 10,000 patients with newly diagnosed breast cancer.

“This registry formed the basis for clinical epidemiology studies on breast cancer outcomes in Malaysia,” she said.

With regional and international collaborations, the breast cancer academics in UM have published extensively on the clinical epidemiology of breast cancer in the region, she shared, adding that in 2003, the team collaborated with the Cancer Research Initiatives Foundation (CARIF) – which is now known as Cancer Research Malaysia (CRM) – to set up a repository of blood and tissue samples which formed the basis for research on breast cancer genetics in Asian women.

At the age of 66 and currently serving as the lead clinician for the breast cancer research programme in CRM, Prof Yip advised students who aspire to become surgeons to persevere and not give up.

“The road to becoming an accomplished surgeon takes many years of hard work and sacrifices,” she said.

Zhi Yong, 22, a medical student at Universiti Malaya, is a participant of the BRATs Young Journalist Programme run by The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) team. Applications for the BRATs 2023 programme are now open. For more information, go to facebook.com/niebrats.

Now that you have read the article, test your understanding by carrying out the following English language activities.

1 With an activity partner, role-play the interview between Zhi Yong and Dr Yip. In your role-play, you must include at least three questions for Dr Yip, whose responses can be found in the article.

2 A trailblazer is a person who is the first to do something that other people do later. Are there any other trailblazers being featured in today’s copy of the Sunday Star newspaper? Look for one example and then, tell your activity partner all about the trailblazer.

The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) programme promotes the use of English language in primary and secondary schools nationwide. For Star-NiE enquiries, email starnie@thestar.com.my.

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