At 72, this general practitioner is still going strong as he serves migrant workers
by Gracia Lee // August 22, 2022, 3:03 pm
"My faith in God is the engine that keeps me going," said Dr Tan Seung Po. "If it's the will of God that I should continue to serve and He is keeping me fit and healthy, I don't see why I can't continue to serve." Photo courtesy of Foochow Methodist Church.
While most people in their golden years would be kicking up their feet and enjoying a quieter pace of life, 72-year-old Dr Tan Seung Po has no plans to slow down as he serves the community with his medical skills.
Apart from running his own private practice in Ang Mo Kio, which he shares with his wife and eldest son, the general practitioner is also the main driver of Caring Community Clinic at Foochow Methodist Church, which offers low-cost medical services to migrant workers.
“My faith in God is the engine that keeps me going,” the grandfather-of-four told Salt&Light with a smile from his clinic in Ang Mo Kio.
“If it’s the will of God that I should continue to serve and He is keeping me fit and healthy, I don’t see why I can’t continue to serve. We are all instructed to make the best use of our time. So in every moment, in whatever you do, continue to serve others. That’s how I serve God.”
A picture of passion and kindness
Dr Tan, who attends Foochow Methodist Church, started Caring Community Clinic almost two decades ago in 2003 after becoming more involved in the church’s Tamil migrant worker ministry.
As the church is located on Race Course Road in Little India, thousands of workers would gather around the church every Sunday, prompting church leaders to invite them in and share Christ’s love with them.
“They came to know me as a healthcare professional, and after my evening service on Sunday I would be approached by some of these migrant workers for help regarding their health issues,” recalled Dr Tan.
“So a thought came to my mind: How nice if I could set up a medical facility to answer their questions and provide some simple treatment for their problems?”
With the support of his pastors, he decided to convert a vacant room on the first level of the church into a clinic, which was later licensed to operate by the Ministry of Health.
Since then the clinic, which is staffed by Dr Tan and volunteer doctors from various churches every Sunday from 4pm to 6pm, has served countless migrant workers at just $5 per visit.
The goal of the clinic is simply to love these workers in a practical way, and hopefully in the process of doing so, have the opportunity to meet their spiritual needs too, said Dr Tan.
“We will just talk to them and counsel them. Quite often they will ask for a prayer from me or from the pastors.”
Apart from the common upper respiratory tract infection issues, these workers usually come in with complaints of muscular-skeletal and skin-related issues due to the hard labour and chemicals they deal with on a daily basis, he added.
Pastor Raja Thomas, who is in charge of the Tamil migrant worker ministry and has worked alongside Dr Tan for 16 years, shared that if Dr Tan meets a patient who requires care beyond what the Sunday clinic hours can afford, he would take up the case at his private practice for a follow-up at a special rate.
“He is such a passionate and energetic person who is in it for the long-term. He’s very dedicated and is always there to help any day, any time,” said Ps Raja.
Perhaps it is because of this that many workers choose to stay after their visit at the clinic to attend the Tamil service at 7pm. During this time, they share more readily about their personal issues.
“We will just talk to them and counsel them. In fact, quite often they will ask for a prayer from me or from the pastors,” said Dr Tan. “In that way we are able to connect with them in a deeper way.”
Leading patients to find God’s grace
Even as a young medical practitioner, Dr Tan had always had a heart for the community.
“My faith in God is the engine that keeps me going.”
After graduating from medical school, he went through a few years of medical training and examinations, hoping to specialise in internal medicine.
However, he decided to change his course midway to become a general practitioner as he felt that setting up his own practice would give him more freedom to serve the community.
“In a hospital environment, while you’d be treating patients with more complex problems, you would also be so busy with your work that you hardly have any time to spend with your patients. So you cannot go deeper into their needs, let alone talk about their spiritual needs,” he said.
In many ways, his decision and sacrifice have paid off. In the course of his career as a general practitioner, he has had many opportunities to show Christ’s love to his patients.
On one occasion about 10 years ago, a regular patient of his was diagnosed with a terminal illness and became bed-bound. Feeling compassion for this man, Dr Tan visited him in hospital at least 20 times in the year he was warded, praying with him and sharing Christ with him.
“To me, this passion comes from knowing who He is. He is love.”
This patient ended up accepting Christ and was baptised before passing away peacefully.
“That was the most amazing encounter with someone who ultimately found God’s grace,” said Dr Tan. “When I look back and think about all I did with my time, it was really worth it.”
Asked what has kept him serving faithfully over all these decades, Dr Tan said humbly: “It’s not my own ability. I must thank God that He has somehow enabled me by sustaining my passion in doing it.”
After some quiet thought, he added: “To me, this passion comes from knowing who He is. He is love … If you know God in a personal way and you know what God has done for your life, I’m sure you will be able to understand a little bit of that passion that He has for us sinners.
“Once you have had that knowledge and understanding and you’re willing to seek Him, I’m sure the Holy Spirit can enable you and give you the passion to serve.”
Being intentional to serve
While the Covid-19 pandemic forced Caring Community Clinic to be shuttered for two years, it is now newly renovated, up and running. On August 7 it was rededicated by Bishop of the Methodist Church, Dr Gordon Wong.
“What better way than to serve people with the knowledge, with the skills that He has provided?”
With this reopening, Dr Tan hopes to have more volunteer doctors on board so that clinic hours can be extended to 2pm to 6pm to serve more workers. However, he understands that the pandemic has been tough on healthcare workers, who may not have the bandwidth to volunteer.
“It’s really wonderful that people, in the midst of their struggles and coping with all these challenges, are still able to think about helping others. For the potential volunteers who are thinking of serving, they still have the opportunity to do so. When everything is more settled, they are still welcome,” he said.
Dr Tan also honoured other clinics, like Karunya Community Clinic and HealthServe Community Clinic, which are doing “very good work” in serving migrant workers in our country.
He hopes that in sharing his story he can encourage people, not just doctors, to be more intentional about serving those around them.
He said: “Our lives are not about ourselves. Life is about impacting the lives of people. Ultimately we need to use our lives for God’s purpose, and what better way than to serve people with the knowledge, with the skills that He has provided?”
If you are a medical doctor interested to volunteer with Caring Community Clinic, please contact Pastor Raja Thomas.
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