“Every ‘version upgrade’ was through a trial or challenge”: St Luke’s Hospital CEO on learning to give control to God
A/Prof Tan Boon Yeow // October 2, 2020, 3:05 pm
"What was outside my control was still in His control," writes Dr Tan Boon Yeow (extreme left, during the early days of St Luke's Hospital), as he reflected on the transformation of his family and the organisation he heads. All photos courtesy of Tan Boon Yeow and St Luke's Hospital.
What comes to your mind when we talk about Version 2.0? Merriam Webster dictionary defines it as a new or improved version of something or someone.
My first significant “upgrading” was in 1987. I was on an overseas trip with friends while waiting to enter National University of Singapore (NUS) as an undergraduate student. I had chosen to study Medicine for a very wrong reason: To be deferred from National Service.
Family upgrade: Learning humanity and faith
But the first year of medical studies was tough. I failed test after test and was almost expelled.
I realised I had to change my attitude towards my studies and depend on God to help me change. I was experiencing an upgrade to Version 3.0.
Slowly my grades improved.
I graduated as a doctor in 1992 and by the time I was doing my post graduate studies in Family Medicine, I was well beyond Version 6.0!
I was improving not only spiritually but also mentally, emotionally and physically. From failing grades, I went on to pass my postgraduate examinations with distinction, and was awarded a Gold Medal by the College of Family Physicians Singapore.
I joined St Luke’s Hospital (SLH) after my postgraduate training in 1999 and continued my professional and character development.
In 2001, SLH sent me to Australia for further training in Community Geriatrics. This was a fairly nascent field in Singapore then as geriatrics specialty care was practised mainly in the hospital setting, not in the community.
My family accompanied me. My wife was a doctor and her hospital, too, sent her there for further training.
My wife and I had been sent to learn about specialty medicine, but God taught us about humanity, gratitude and faith.
My wife and I had long noticed that our twin daughters, then aged five, were abnormally shy, but we could not put our finger on it even though we were medical professionals.
When our daughters were outside familiar settings, they would freeze in anxiety and not utter a word. In Australia, facing the culture shock of a system which expected them to speak up, they developed psychosomatic symptoms and refused to go to school.
By chance (or more accurately, God’s divine appointment), a school psychologist sent to help another child observed my daughters’ behaviour in class. There were diagnosed them with Selective Mutism, a childhood anxiety disorder.
We began a slow and tedious process to help them take small steps to overcome their social phobia and anxiety.
Every tiny milestone, like saying “hi” to a new friend or putting up their hand in class, was cause for celebration!
My wife and I had been sent by our hospitals to learn about specialty medicine, but God also taught us about humanity, gratitude and faith.
It was a painful but necessary journey for us to upgrade our relationship, not only with God, but also with each other within the family.
Our daughters were also experiencing their own version upgrades. Over the years, we were able to experience God’s grace and refinement in their lives at the secondary, junior college and university levels.
This was aided greatly by the church which extended their love, acceptance and generosity towards all of us.
St Luke’s: That which belongs to the Lord
My faith in God took on a new dimension when I accepted the role of CEO at St Luke’s.
Though I had repeatedly experienced God’s provision for my personal and family’s needs, it was different assuming the mantle of leadership at work.
After an initial six-months honeymoon period, the reality of having to provide for 500 staff weighed heavily on me.
“With each trial, my knowledge of the Lord and my faith grew.”
This was exacerbated by the changing healthcare landscape, which meant SLH – which started as the first hospital in Singapore dedicated to the elderly sick – could not keep doing “business as usual”.
I realised that, despite maximal efforts from me and our team, we were waging an uphill battle to thrive as an organisation, due to circumstances beyond our direct control.
Proverbs 16:9 (NLT) tells us: “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.”
At one of my lowest points as CEO, God reassured me that SLH belongs to the Lord, and my role as the chief steward was to manage the resources the best that I can.
What was outside my control was still in His control.
“God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supplies”
This latest version upgrade prepared SLH to get through the Covid-19 pandemic.
At the personal level, every version upgrade of myself was usually through a trial or challenge.
Being a smaller organisation presents us with resource challenges in terms of finances and manpower. However, with each challenge comes an opportunity to learn and grow.
This experience is both humbling and, at the same time, gratifying. Humbling, as I increasingly realise that many times there is no way I could have solved problems in my own wisdom and strength.
Gratifying because, with each trial, my knowledge of the Lord and my faith grew. I am probably undergoing my 20th Version upgrade since 1987.
British missionary Hudson Taylor’s saying that “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supplies” would prove to be so true in my 21-year journey with SLH.
Covid-19 acid test: Serving, loving, healing
When I became CEO of SLH four years ago, I had a strong sense that the Hospital (now in its 24th year) had to upgrade to meet new challenges. Hence, we embarked on our strategic transformation in 2019 after months of planning in 2018.
“There is a collective anticipation of better things to come as we explore possibilities with each other and with God.”
Plans and strategies are paper exercises until they are tried, tested and implemented.
Covid-19 accelerated the need for change and was the acid test of whether plans worked. We are showing signs of this new Version 2.0.
To keep patients and staff safe, staff work in different zones to prevent cross-infection. Our art and music therapists no longer enter multiple wards like they used to. They use video conference technology so patients continue to benefit from music and art therapy, which help improve their well-being.
The hospital’s Day Rehabilitation Centre, which closed temporarily during the Circuit Breaker, also continued to care for patients virtually through tele-rehabilitation. We also served more patients virtually in speech therapy.
Version 1.0 had certain distinctives such as “Serving, Loving, Healing”, that is, healthcare professionals caring for patients with one mind, one heart and a culture of warmth and friendliness. We hear that from patients and caregivers, and even partners.
Version 2.0 retains the features of 1.0 plus a new-found courage and strength that signifies our growth as a team. The team has a collective anticipation of better things to come as we explore new possibilities through multiple conversations with each other and with God.
As John 10:10 says: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
This article has been expanded, with permission, from a letter by the author to the staff of St Luke’s Hospital. If you’d like to support the work of St Luke’s Hospital, click here to find out more about their upcoming concert, Voices of Light.
Reflection and Discussion
I am sure your work (and family) team has been challenged in more ways than one in this pandemic.
Have you started conversations on how you could be growing and working towards an upgrade as a better team/organisation?
Have you and your team been embracing a growth mindset and looking at ways to move from good to great despite the pandemic?
The Covid-19 pandemic provides an opportune time to take stock of where we are in our life’s journey:
Have we ever had a version upgrade?
When was our last upgrade? As the world changes, we need version upgrades to remain relevant. As Christians, our version upgrade should answer the question of whether we are being the salt and light of this world as Jesus described in Mattew 5:13- 16.
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