Feature | My Story as a Woman Cardiologist

This article was authored by Khim Leng Tong, MBBS, FACC, adjunct associate professor, director of the cardiac care unit, and chief and senior consultant at the Changi General Hospital in Singapore.

The patient was looking at me incredulously. He was finding it hard to accept me as his cardiologist. This young K-pop-lookalike Asian girl with long brown hair just didn’t fit into his stereotype of a loud, booming alpha male of a cardiologist.

Women around the world, whether in the U.S. or in Asia, I think, are subjected to similar gender biases. I am the only woman cardiologist in the department, and I’ve been the chief for the last four and a half years. It has been a long 20 years in a male-dominated career.

When I was 12 years old, my teacher wrote this in my graduation book: “Always live up to your highest dream.” I have never forgotten this advice. It is my life motto.

What I have learned so far?

  1. When life gives you lemons, you made lemonade.

    Don’t whine and cry for too long, just enough to get over the initial disappointment. Pick yourself up, reorganize your priorities and move on. When I was rejected from respiratory medicine, I turned to cardiology, and cardiology has turned out to be a no-less-tasty lemonade.

  2. Live life with no regrets.

    It really did not matter to me when my mum told me that ‘medicine is a hard life,’ and a cardiologist prepared me for the fact that I would have ‘no life.’ Taking the MRCP in the UK was grilling, and having to take Part 1 twice was quite humbling, but I could not have lived with myself if I had given up then and been labeled a failure.

  3. Don’t expect instant gratification. Be prepared to work hard.

    Success does not come on a platter. It takes grit, tenacity, perseverance and focus to reach the goal. Some may have been born with more opportunities than others, but most, including me, must work hard to get there. No sweat, no glory, even if you have not slept a wink the whole night on duty. Prove to the soothsayers that you have the substance needed and that you are not ‘’just standing there and looking pretty.”

  4. Always believe in yourself. If you don’t, nobody else will.

    In an alpha-dominated, aggressive world, there is less forgiveness generally. The first groin you pressed may have led to a haematoma, the first echo you did may have missed an atrial septal defect ... and so on. Mistakes happen, but don’t let the hue and cry get to you. Believe that you are good.

  5. You need a source of strength.

    For some, it is religion. For others, it could be family, loved ones and memories.

The second time my patient returned for his repeat consult, he could not be more relieved. His stress test was negative, and he has given up on his smoking. “I am glad I saw you,” he said to me.