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Dr Luke Tan, 45, ear nose ThroaT speciaLisT, and Head & Neck Surgeon
There’s something very calming about talking to ENT specialist and head and neck surgeon, Dr Luke Tan. Maybe it’s his gentle but firm voice or the general affable manner of his that shows through, but you can imagine it must all be very reassuring for the patients who visit his practice to deal with their nasal throat and thyroid problems. 80 per cent of the surgeries that Luke does are thyroid, sinus or throat– related adults cases that form bulk of his patient load for surgeries, while he operates on a lot of kids mainly for tonsil problems.
But what this good doctor is particularly known for is his skill in thyroid surgery, especially minimal access thyroid procedures. He has spoken at many conferences about his surgical experiences and has demonstrated the surgery in many countries in the region, including Vietnam, Indonesia and Cambodia. He shares that a lot of young women in Singapore have thyroid problems, and the condition is more prevalent to those who have a family history of the disease. Fortunately not all thyroid lumps (masses or modules) are cancerous, although some can be. Luke also treats cancers of the head and neck and one of the challenges he says is making sure that the “surgery doesn’t have to be repeated again, and to avoid complications of surgery. Especially in the neck area, you want to avoid scars.”
He reveals that his decision to become a doctor was born after witnessing his grandmother suffer cancer of the stomach. He was in Secondary Three then and would help his grandmother change her dressing. In medical school, he knew he was good with his hands and wanted to be a surgeon; he didn’t want to do just general surgery however but wanted to do cancer work. So he went to pursue his training in head and neck cancer surgery, doing oncology-related work and thyroid surgery (it makes up more than half of his practice today).
He’s spent the last 17 years as a surgeon, a career which has not only earned him prestige and recognition, but a position to impart his knowledge in the field by teaching young medical students. Luke has been an associate professor and senior consultant at the National University of Singapore (NUS) since 2001, and was the university hospital’s former chief of the department of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery and the head of the Department of Otolaryngology at NUS. He was responsible for establishing the Head & Neck Surgery unit to the department of Otolaryngology. Another accolade he can claim: being the past president of the Singapore Otorhinolaryngology Society, for which he initiated the landmark formation of the Singapore Society of Otorhinolaryngology- Head and Neck Surgery. He’s now an adjunct associate Professor to the nuhs department of Otolaryngology- Head and Neck Surgery, and is also an journal reviewer for several major academic ENT- Head and Neck journals internationally.
He still teaches every fortnightly and advocates that doctors and surgeons should give back to the community by imparting their knowledge and expertise to the future pillars of the medical profession. After all, a surgeon has a life span, because of declining vision and dexterity in the later years. “You’re limited by physiology. You can perform long hours of complex head and neck surgery perhaps until you’re in the 60s but operating past that age is not practical,” he says matter-of-factly
Luke, a father of two boys (the oldest is 14, and the younger is 11, and neither have decided on medicine as a career) compares teaching medical students to bringing up children. “You can feed them with the head stuff but not the heart stuff,” he says, adding that “most come in with a heart for practising medicine, but that gets jaded with time, so it’s important for the senior doctors to keep that dream alive.”
He feels that that is one of the blindspots of the field: “The move away from patient as a focus and more about what technology and processes can do... more head than heart, and the balance needs to be shifted back.” The altruistic side of medical care is just as important and he often tells students, “one shouldn’t come into medicine just because of the money.” Getting into the profession is “where the heart really comes in, and that’s especially true when you’re in the private sector,” he says, warning that it’s easy to get caught up by other exigencies like overheads. He shares that when he decided to go into private practice, he downgraded from a house to an apartment to clear his loans, so he was not beholden and worrying.
His parting advice to young doctors is to “structure your finances in your personal life so you don’t over leverage. Simple living and financial attitudes are important in your personal life, this will help you enjoy your practice and be rewarded by your results.” he says wisely.
“Medicine is both an art and a science, it needs both a good head on the shoulders and a heart in the right place.”
A/PROF LUKE K S TAN
Ear Nose & Throat Surgeon

MBBS FRCS (England) MMEDS ci FAMS (ORL)
Head & Neck Surgery (Texas, USA)
Luke Tan ENT - Head & Neck Cancer and
Thyroid Surgery Centre
3 Mount Elizabeth #14-17 Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre. Tel: 6474 6116
www.thyroidsurgery.com.sg