The surgeon of the new millennium has come a long way from his humble beginnings in the Middle Ages as the lowly barber-surgeon. The skills and techniques developed by outstanding surgeons like Astley Cooper of the 19th century have withstood the test of time and have been refined by subsequent generations of surgical masters. The scientific basis of modern surgery was put on a firm footing in the early 19th century through the discovery of anaesthesia and microorganisms as a cause of many diseases and surgical complications. The 20th century brought about rapid progress in medicine, information technology (IT) and the life sciences, and closed with a big bang with the completion of the sequencing of the human genome. For the surgeon of the 21st century to remain relevant, he must embrace the concept of the Total Surgeon. Not doing so will render him irrelevant in the course of time, for having good surgical technique alone is insufficient. He must also lead in scientific endeavours to push the frontiers of the life sciences in attempts to solve the insoluble, and be scholarly in thought, attitude and behaviour. In other words, he must be a Surgeon-Scientist-Scholar.
Next year, we celebrate a hundred years of medical education in Singapore. We have come a long way since 1821 – from a small, sleepy medical outpost catering to the British Armed Forces in the Far East, to an excellent state-of-the-art medical hub.
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