Lives of the fellows

Cheng-siang Seah

b.9 March 1922 d.25 June 1990
MB BS Malaysia(1951) MD(1957) FRCPE(1968) FRACP(1969) FACP(1984) FACG(1985) *FRCP(1986)

Seah Cheng-Siang was born in Singapore, where his father Seah Kwang-Jim was in business. He was educated at the Anglo-Chinese School, Singapore, and the King Edward VII College of Medicine, University of Malaya at Singapore. Despite the rude interruption by the second world war, his undergraduate career was outstanding. When he graduated in 1951 he gained top honours in medicine, including the Brunei Hawes gold medal for medicine and the Lim Boon Keng medal for clinical medicine.

Cheng-Siang was a pupil of Sir Gordon Ransome [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII, p.485], the foundation Master of the Singapore Academy of Medicine, who was regarded as the founder of modern medicine in Singapore. From 1952-56 Cheng-Siang served as his assistant at the Singapore General Hospital, acquiring many of his professor’s attributes in ministering to the sick and in the teaching of students at the bedside. He became one of Sir Gordon’s many disciples.

In 1956 he was awarded the coveted Queen’s Scholarship to pursue advanced medical studies in Britain. A year later he obtained his membership of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and was also awarded a doctorate for his work on lung abscess. Shortly after his return to Singapore he was promoted senior registrar at the Singapore General Hospital, then consultant physician in 1958 - when he was given the daunting task of setting up a department of medicine at the Toa Payoh Hospital.

His ability as an outstanding physician and teacher soon became evident; the department flourished under his leadership and earned top accolades for patient care and the teaching of undergraduates and postgraduates. In 1971 he was appointed senior physician and head of Medical Unit Ill at the Singapore General Hospital and clinical professor of medicine at the National University of Singapore. Although he retired as head of Unit Ill in 1987 he was to remain in the department until his death.

As head of medicine at both hospitals he attracted numerous followers, many of whom were his former medical students, and he instilled in them his high ideals and deep concern and compassion for patients. He built up an impressive reputation for clinical skills and had a large consulting practice. His patients were drawn from all social classes and, whilst he was widely known as a physician in the general sense, his chief interest lay in gastroenterology. He published over a hundred papers on the subject, founded the Gastroenterological Society of Singapore and became its president. He was also president of the Asian Pacific Congress of Gastroenterology and of the Asian Pacific Association for the Study of the Liver. Cheng-Siang’s devotion to the teaching of medicine is legendary in Singapore; he regarded teaching as one of the most important functions of a physician.

He had great loyalty and affection for the Academy of Medicine. He was its Master from 1970-73 and served on the Council for over a decade. He played a pivotal role in the formation of the school of postgraduate medical studies and the establishment of the Master of Medicine degree in 1970. He was deputy director of the School and chief examiner in internal medicine from 1970-1988, establishing close ties and friendships with the many presidents and fellows of the various Royal Colleges during this period. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and was its regional adviser, representing Singapore. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians in 1969 and served on its council. He became a Fellow of the London College in 1986 and was also a Fellow of the American College, and an honorary fellow of the Singapore College of General Practitioners.

Besides his devotion to his patients and students, he also distinguished himself in public duties. One which gave him great pleasure was his active association with the Singapore Medical Council of which he was the longest serving president, from 1972-89. His work was recognized by the award of many honours: the Singapore National Day Honours in 1970 and the Public Administration Gold Medal (PPA). In 1975 he received the Meritorious Service Medal (PJG) and in 1980 the Sultan of Johore bestowed on him the Datukship (SPMJ).

He married his wife Margaret, a general practitioner, in 1954 and they had four children - two sons and two daughters, who gave them three grandchildren. He led a full life and was a devoted family man. Margaret continues in part-time practice and one daughter is also a family practitioner. Cheng-Siang had a keen interest in sport and in his younger days excelled at hockey and cricket. He was a learned man, widely read not only in medicine but a lover of literature. He was also fond of classical music, stamp collecting and gardening.

Sheah Cheng-Siang was a compassionate physician and a fine teacher; indefatigable whenever aid was sought by his fellow men and his colleagues. Many generations of doctors whom he trained and nurtured will always be grateful to him; many who now enjoy eminent positions in medicine are in their turn passing on his teachings to many others. They will be his lasting tribute.

Chew Chin Hin

* Elected under the special bye-law which provides for the election to the fellowship of "Persons holding a medical qualification, but not Members of the College, who have distinguished themselves in the practice of medicine, or in the pursuit of Medical or General Science or Literature.."

(Volume IX, page 463)

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