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N C Tan

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 18 August 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h4251
  1. Ned Stafford, Hamburg
  1. ns{at}

Pioneered cardiothoracic surgery in Singapore

N C Tan and wife Dixie Tan

It was in December 1961 that Tan Ngoh Chuan—overflowing with big ideas—returned home to Singapore. Tan, later to become widely known as N C Tan, had spent two years in Australia, training in cardiothoracic surgery. Only 30 years old at the time, he was eager to establish the discipline in Singapore.

He soon found that achieving his goal would be much more difficult than he had anticipated. The medical establishment did not share his enthusiasm. At the time, Singapore was still a British colony, and most doctors were British expatriates. At Singapore General Hospital, where Tan was senior registrar in surgery, his managers had “little appetite for a newfangled, speculative subdiscipline,” such as cardiothoracic surgery, according to Tan’s daughter, Jacinta Tan.

“But my father kept the dream alive,” says Jacinta Tan, herself an associate professor of medicine at Swansea University in the UK, who specialises in child and adolescent psychiatry. “He learnt what he could anyway and bided his time and eventually was offered the chance to build up his unit, which he grabbed with both hands.”

Opportunities after independence

Tan’s chance came in 1965, the same year in which Singapore gained independence from British rule. Tan moved to Tan Tock Seng Hospital and began the difficult …

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