8 October 2020

ACV31: Mastering The Art Of Learning, Balancing Life And Other Leadership Lessons (Prof Francis Seow Choen, Colorectal Surgeon and Entomologist, Part 1)

Dr Francis Seow Choen graduated with his MBBS in 1981, despite listing medicine as the fourth choice for admission. He obtained his FRCS in 1987 as an orthopaedic trainee, and thereafter immediately switched to general surgery, thinking that general surgery was a wider field than bones alone.  He was one of the first two in the new Department of Colorectal Surgery, SGH when it started in 1989. He thought it easier to become someone big in a “small, new” specialty, rather than be a minion in a “huge, old” specialty.  He became head of department in 1994.  When he left for private practice in 2003, he had led the department to international recognition; with trainees from all over the world, and with a large numbers of research papers and regular international invitations to teach surgery; earning him the Excellence for Singapore Award 2000.  Throughout this time, he continued his intense interest in entomology, having to date written nine books on stick insects and describing more than 200 new species. He was also chairmen of the boards of two charities, a school for displaced students and the founding chairman of Guide Dogs of the Blind, Singapore.  He has been a member of the board of his church since the 1980’s.

In this podcast, I talk to Prof Francis Seow about how to approach learning when starting out in a completely new field; what it means by leading a “balanced life”; as well as how to be a useful leader.


  1. Developing a passion: We live in a world where we are always urged to follow our passion. Unfortunately, many people give up on their passion because they don’t get the support they need. For instance, if you are a parent and your child shows passion in a particular area, it is your duty to accord them support. On a personal level, you need to take time and cultivate on your passion. Always strive to get better.
  2. Balancing life: Balance in life means that you have the time to do what you want to do. In life, it is always good to remember that doing a lot does not necessarily mean you will achieve a lot. Always take the time to try to find your equilibrium. Make sure by the end of the day, week, month, or year you are happy and satisfied.
  3. Building a world-class department: If you want to develop a world-class department at your workplace, it is essential to make sure there is someone to lead the department, and that all the members of the department are recognized regardless of how junior. The department should not be the only person carrying the praise and shame of the team. It is also important to make sure that you go the extra mile that many people may not be willing to go. Always make sure you are steps ahead of your competition.

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