About SSO

Written by Dr Lim Kuang Hui

I start this account with the year 1963 because it was on January 11 of 1963 that the Society of Ophthalmology of the Singapore Medical Association (so named in its Constitution) was inaugurated, with Robert Loh as its founding chairman and Arthur Lim its founding secretary-cum-treasurer. It was on July 1 of that year that I started training in ophthalmology when I gained a "posting" to the Eye Clinic at the then General Hospital in Singapore, in circumstances alluded to earlier.

At that time, Robert Loh was the head of the eye department and Arthur Lim his chief assistant. The latter had just returned with an English Fellowship in ophthalmology. He was eager to teach and I was his only student. As always, Arthur Lim emphasised basic principles as he took me through the gamut of basic essentials from refraction theory to Queen's Square neurology, I could not have begun my career at a more propitious time.

For the exclusive use of the Eye Department only there were two operating theatres which provided for major surgery and examinations under anaesthesia. The ward strength comprised "first class" and "second class" rooms for male and female inpatients, a "third class" large open ward for male patients and a separate open ward for women and children. The bed strength came to between 90-100 and, depending on occupancy, beds were also put up along the verandahs, as there were few day surgeries in those days. The warded patients were there mainly for cataract surgery, acute glaucoma and trauma, with a minority of severe uveitis and acute suppurative infections.

The development of the Eye Department at the General Hospital is also the story of the early development of ophthalmology in Singapore as the Eye Clinic was the only government eye department then and it serviced the entire public sector in the country. Mr A.D. Williamson was appointed the first head of the Eye Clinic in 1934. When Williamson retired in 1957, Wong Kin Yip (a returning Queen's Scholar) took over as the first local head of the Eye Clinic. Wong's account of cataract surgery in the 50s is reproduced elsewhere in this volume. I myself has brought up on the graefe's section for intracapsular cataract extraction and his account describes a classic operation in those days. With only one pre-placed suture, wound closure was poor and re-operations for iris prolapse were not uncommon. Patients had to come back on the tenth post-operative day for removal of sutures, which was usually done by the most junior doctor.

I also recall going up to the Eye Clinic in 1957 for a 10-day students' posting, when Wong introduced the students to the only two drugs in the entire pharmacopoeia: viz, "A3" (for Albucid 10% eyedrops three times a day) and "C4" (for cortisone 1% eyedrops applied four times a day). This regimen is still widely followed today for a variety of eye diseases.

Wong left for private practice in 1959 and was succeeded by Robert Loh, who had just returned after training at the Moorfields Eye Hospital and the Institute of Ophthalmology in London. Loh would wear a magnifying loupe around his neck when examining patients - such was the fashion and "high tech" of those days - just as a physician would hang a stethoscope around the neck as a kind of badge of office. He also organised and was the congress president when the 3rd Asia-Pacific Academy of Ophthalmology Congress was held in Singapore in 1968. I took over the headship of the Eye Clinic from 1971 till 1975.

Eye Clinic, General Hospital 1968

Seated L-R :

Mr Leow Hock Min (optician), Drs Ang Beng Chong, David S L Tan, Tong Heng Nam, Chua Sui Kim, Robert C.K. Loh (Head), Lim Kuang Hui, Voon Gone Lin, Raymond Phua, Chng Hong Chee.

Eye Clinic General Hospital 1969

Seated L-R :

Sister Ho, Drs Tong Heng Nam, Lim Kuang Hui, Chua Sui Kim (Head), Khoo Cheng Yew, David S L Tan, Sister Lai

Standing L-R :

Drs K K Kok, Ang Beng Chong, Yeong Seng Coo, Victor S H Yong, Raymond Phua

Establishment of other Eye Departments

Two new eye departments were created; one at the Tan Tock Seng Hospital in 1979 with Cheah Way Mun as its head and another at the National University Hospital in 1986 with Arthur Lim (appointed from the private sector) as its head. The appointment of private sector ophthalmologists as visiting staff to government or university hospital departments set a new trend and established a two-way flow of expertise which rapidly gave credibility and stature to the new departments at the National University Hospital and the Singapore National Eye Centre, which was to be inaugurated later in 1991.

At the same time, many private eye clinics, attached to private hospitals or located in fashionable shopping centres, were established, following resignations from the public sector. With the demand for sophisticated, good quality medical care in Singapore, the scene was now set for the development of the ophthalmic subspecialities. With the establishment of an academic department at the National University of Singapore in recent years and the inauguration of the Singapore National Eye Centre with its strong emphasis on research, the issue of subspecialisation has resurfaced with a sense of urgency.

Eye Clinic General Hospital Singapore 1970

Seated L-R :

Drs Kok Kok Kheng, Ang Beng Chong, Yeong Seng Coo, Tong Heng Nam, Lim Kuang Hui, Chua Sui Kim (Head), Khoo Chong Yew, David S L Tan, Victor S H Yong, Raymond Phua

Eye Clinic General Hospital Singapore, 1975

Seated L-R :

Drs Wong Cher Chon, Leong Seek Kee, Lim Kuang Hui (Head), Tong Heng Nam, Loh Pek Har

Standing L-R :

Drs Ang Beng Chong, Victor S H Yong, Raymond Phua, Low Cze Hong, David S L Tan

Prevention of Blindness

For our international relationship, Arthur Lim sits on the executive committee of the international Federation of Ophthalmological Societies. He was a vice-president of the International Association for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) and chairman of the IAPB (Southeast Asia Region). I am currently co-chairman POB programmes within the Asia Pacific countries.

International Ophthalmology

In addition to hosting the 3rd Asia-Pacific Academy of Ophthalmology Congress in Singapore in 1968 and the 26th International Congress of Ophthalmology Congress in Singapore in 1990, our members have also participated and served international ophthalmology in various capacities. In particular, Arthur Lim has held, and still holds, leadership roles and key appointments in numerous international organisations (listed else where in this volume).

Singapore National Eye Centre

The government established the Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC) in 1991 as the first specialist medical centre in the country with the specific objective of achieving excellence in ophthalmic practice at an international level. Arthur Lim (who also functions as head of the eye department at the National University of Singapore) was appointed its medical director. Within three years, Arthur Lim has already established the SNEC as a top service centre with a strong emphasis on continued medical education, training, and research. The government released its White Paper on Health in 1993 confirming the recognition and further development of the SNEC as a tertiary centre for eye care in the public sector in Singapore.

Future Direction and the Singapore Society of Ophthalmology

Ophthalmology in Singapore is going where we want to take it but where and how do we want it to go? Thus, I conclude this introduction with a brief discussion of the status and future direction of the Singapore Society of Ophthalmology (SSO) as it will affect all practising ophthalmologists in Singapore.

Unlike the national ophthalmological societies in the USA, UK and Australia, whose membership are spread over vast territories, the SSO is concentrated and its membership can be contacted easily and rapidly. The societies mentioned earlier have a large say in and are powerful bodies with regard to training, examination and accreditation, before anyone can be admitted into their membership. They are also responsible to their governments on all matters pertaining to ophthalmic practice in their countries. This is not the case with SSO.

But like all organisations, the SSO has also had its "ups and downs" in enthusiasm and activities. Within its limited membership, the SSO very early on organised and hosted the 3rd congress of the Asia-Pacific Academy of Ophthalmology, of which our society was founding member. It then lapsed into inactivity except for the AGMs and occasional social functions.

Arthur Lim, a natural leader, at once brought in many innovations. He initiated the first joint scientific meeting with the Malaysian Society of Ophthalmology in 1981 (now to become an annual rotating event); published the first, and only, "Proceedings of the SSO" in 1982; took the society overseas with affiliation and corresponding membership with the Ophthalmological Societies of the UK and the International Federation of Ophthalmological Societies; and successfully bid, in the name of SSO, to host a meeting of the International Congress of Ophthalmology (the top meeting of all eye surgeons world-wide) in Singapore. Peter Tseng finalised an agreement with the National University of Singapore for a student's award of a gold medal and book prize to encourage undergraduate interest in ophthalmology. Ang Chong Lye recognised the society's 30th anniversary with a teaching seminar and a grand get-together of its membership, which included a publication of this commemorative book.

In the midst of all this, we must not deny the fact that the SSO is unique in that it has, in its membership, all the practising ophthalmologists in the country and can, therefore, provide a potentially powerful lobby as its speaks on behalf of all our ophthalmologists. For the time being, it may be as well to remain silent. If our perceived role appears to be social and to host the annual rotating joint meetings, long may it so continue!