Singapore—After Member of Parliament Koh Poh Koon (PAP Tampines GRC) put up a Facebook post that began with “Am I really a doctor?,” one unexpected result was that netizens began to compare him with another doctor who has spent many years in public service, Progress Singapore Party’s (PSP) Tan Cheng Bock.

A meme on the All Singapore Stuff Facebook page on Tuesday (Oct 26) put pictures of the two doctors side by side.

In one picture, Dr Tan can be seen with his arm around an elderly woman, with the captions, “Well-respected,” and “heart for the people.”

The other photo was a screengrab of Dr Koh’s Oct 23 Facebook post, in which he wrote, “Am I really a doctor? This was one of the questions some youths in Tampines asked me recently in an interview. Here’s a picture of me demonstrating laparoscopic (keyhole) colon surgery in a hospital in Myanmar. Check out that intense look in my eyes.”

Across the bottom of the All Singapore Stuff post it reads, “Boast about oneself,” suggesting, perhaps unfairly, that Dr Koh’s post was unnecessarily self-serving.

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Dr Koh is the Senior Minister of State for the Ministry of Health, a position he has occupied since July of this year. Previous to this, he served as Senior Minister of State for the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) (2017 to 2020) and Senior Minister of State for the Ministry of National Development (MND) (2017 to 2018).

He also served as Minister of State for both the MTI and the MND, and is currently the Deputy Secretary-General of the National Trades Union Congress, a position he has held since 2018. He was also an MP at  Ang Mo Kio GRC from 2015 until this year.

As a medical doctor, he specialises in colorectal surgery. He graduated with an MBBS degree from the National University of Singapore and had fellowships at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, the Academy of Medicine in Singapore, as well as advanced training in the surgical treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases in Edinburgh and at the Cleveland Clinic in the United States.

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On the other hand, Dr Tan’s career as a physician and public servant has taken a somewhat different route.

As TISG reported last year, perhaps Dr Tan’s perspectives are most deeply shaped by having practiced medicine for 50 years. He started his professional life as a village doctor in Lim Chu Kang, and then opened up “Ama Keng Clinic ” in 1971 when he was only 31.

When Dr Tan announced his retirement from medicine last December, he wrote with fondness of his early days. He took care of more than people’s medical needs, being called upon to assist the villagers in other aspects as well. This, undoubtedly, prepared him for government service.

As for his political career, from 1980 to 2006, Dr Tan served as a Member of Parliament (MP) under the PAP. He was elected to Parliament six times in a row, soundly besting every candidate who ran against him.

As an MP, he served on the committees for Education, National Development, the Environment, among others, and also served as an elected member of the highest ruling committee of his party, the PAP Central Executive Committee for nine years from 1987 to 1996.

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Regarding serving under Singapore’s Founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Dr Tan wrote in a moving tribute in 2015, after PM Lee’s death, that he had felt during his initial interview with him in 1980 that the late Prime Minister had not been impressed with “a village doctor with a rebellious streak.”

In May 2011, Dr Tan resigned from the PAP just before he announced his presidential bid, as Singapore’s constitution dictates that candidates must be nonpartisan.

On Jan 18, 2019, he announced his return to the political arena by filing an application with the Registry of Societies for a new political party named the Progress Singapore Party. —/TISG

Read also: In Profile: Tan Cheng Bock

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