DR Wong Yee Ling is not one to back down from a challenge.
Living up to her motto of “never give up and just keep going”, the 30-year-old has managed to overcome several hurdles in her journey to become an eye surgeon in the United Kingdom.
“The eye is so small but provides so much information about one’s health.
“I like the challenge of performing surgery on this delicate structure that requires one to have good hand-eye coordination, stereopsis and manual dexterity,” she told StarEdu.
Having passed all her fellowship examinations, the Sarawakian, who is undergoing a seven-year specialist training programme at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital, will obtain her fellowship status from the Royal College of Ophthalmologists (RCOphth) in September.
Fellowship of the college is a prerequisite for completing her training in the UK, and while Dr Wong has two more years to go before her residency ends, she has made her mark thus far. She was awarded the prestigious Elizabeth Hunt Medal for having scored the highest mark in the RCOphth Refraction Certificate examination for the 2020 cohort.
Even landing a spot for specialty training in ophthalmology is a feat in itself, as she is undertaking one of the most competitive residency programmes in the UK with only 80 posts a year. A firm believer of achieving success through working hard and seizing opportunities, Dr Wong said with resilience and determination, medical students would be able to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficulties encountered throughout medical school, foundation training, and even the process of applying for specialist training.
“It doesn’t stop there. During specialist training, you will learn new academic, clinical and surgical skills daily and it is a steep learning curve. Occasionally, you may feel inadequate after encountering a setback but if you learn from it, you will wake up a better person the next day,” she said.
Looking back on the beginning of her tertiary journey, Dr Wong, who completed her secondary studies at SMK Chung Hua Miri in Sarawak, said she failed to obtain a local scholarship even though she had scored 11 straight As in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM).
Despite the setback, she eventually obtained a scholarship to study a one-year foundation programme in Australia.
“With the results from the programme, I applied for a credit transfer programme to study medicine at International Medical University (IMU), where I spent my pre-clinical years, and subsequently at the University of Dundee, UK, for three years of clinical medicine,” she said.
The credit transfer programme, she said, was challenging because she had to accustom herself to a “completely new environment, with different academic expectations, assessment formats, and ways of interacting with patients and colleagues”.
As an ophthalmology resident, Dr Wong’s time is filled carrying out surgeries, attending consultations in clinics and doing academic work, such as clinical audits and research publications.
“A normal day for me at work includes a morning theatre session where I would arrive early for a preoperative round to prepare patients for ocular surgery that I will then perform under supervision suited to my training level and experience.
“After lunch, I would head to the subspecialty clinic to see patients with complex ocular pathologies,” she said, adding that ophthalmology is one of the busiest outpatient specialties in the UK due to the increasing demand for ophthalmic services for the ageing population.
While keeping a busy schedule, Dr Wong stressed the importance of “having a life” outside medicine.
“My hobbies include travelling, painting and photography. It is important to have a good work-life balance to keep oneself sane,” she said.
Not one to take credit for her achievements, Dr Wong attributed her success to her parents, mentors, colleagues and patients, who have been an integral part of her career.
“My parents have always been very supportive of my career choice and have always been my pillars of strength,” she said.
She added that it is important to receive constructive feedback with open arms.
“That way, you can improve and be better at what you do,” she said.
On her plans post-residency, Dr Wong said she is interested in pursuing the anterior segment of the eye, especially the cornea and cataract, as a subspecialty of interest.
“After completing my training in 2025, I hope to undertake a year of fellowship in my subspecialty of interest to further my skills before becoming a consultant,” she said.
Zhi Yong, 23, 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. To join Star-NiE’s online youth community, go to facebook.com/niebrats.
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