Published on 6 June 2024

    To honour the many achievements of Professor Lee Chuen Neng, a new professorship was launched by Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore (NUS Medicine). We uncover the driving force behind his success in the medical profession.

    One of the unmistakable features in the office of Professor Lee Chuen Neng, a cardiac surgeon with the National University Heart Centre, Singapore (NUHCS), is a large map with markers indicating the countries he has travelled to.

    From the rugged landscapes of Kyrgyzstan, to the vibrant streets of Colombia, to the stunning mountain ranges in Northern Pakistan, Prof Lee — affectionately known as CN — has traversed all corners of the globe.

    But Prof Lee does not travel to new countries simply for the sake of collecting stamps on a passport. 

    Instead, he makes it a point to delve deeper into the country’s culture, history, and traditions – an approach that he says enhances his enjoyment of the trip.

    With camera in hand, he captures pictures of breathtaking wildlife and scenery, while immersing himself in the rich tapestry of local customs, creating memories with the people he meets along the way.

    This commitment to broadening his horizons, and deepening his understanding and knowledge of various subjects, is one he has adopted at work, and has served him well throughout his 50-odd years in healthcare. 

    “Just because you visit a certain country or area, doesn't mean you understand the place,” said Prof Lee. “To enjoy your trip even more, you should first do your research on the country to appreciate it better.

    “This philosophy applies to anything in life as well. For instance, I'm very knowledgeable about all things related to the heart, because I've delved deeply into the topic for many years as a heart surgeon.” 

    Indeed, Prof Lee's expertise in heart surgery is evidenced by his remarkable credentials and achievements in the field, making him one of the top heart surgeons in Singapore.

    As an Emeritus Consultant in the Department of Cardiac, Thoracic, and Vascular Surgery (CTVS) at NUHCS, Prof Lee — who is also the Abu Rauff Professor in Surgery in the Department of Surgery at NUS Medicine — has helped thousands of patients over the years.

    One of his most notable achievements is the founding of the Department of CTVS at the National University Hospital (NUH) and the National University Health System (NUHS) in 1985, before leading the department’s integration into NUHCS during the latter’s establishment as a National Centre in 2008, paving the way for generations of surgeons in the field. 

    In addition, Prof Lee served as the chair of surgery at NUHS, and headed the NUS Medicine Department of Surgery from 2005 to 2015. During his tenure, he established the Advanced Surgery Training Centre and developed 14 specialty surgery divisions, including transplant, gastrointestinal, and reconstructive surgery, at NUH.

    Prof Lee also spearheaded a training and certification programme for Cardiothoracic Surgery in Singapore jointly with the Hong Kong College of Surgeons and the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

    To honour and celebrate Prof Lee’s dedication to exploring new frontiers of medical discoveries, NUS Medicine launched the CN Lee professorship in April this year.

    Named the CN Lee Professorship in Medical Sciences, it represents the newest addition to a series of professorships established by NUS Medicine to honour exceptional Singaporeans and cultivate future leaders in medical sciences. 

    This professorship fosters collaborations with experts across diverse fields to tackle pressing issues like cancer and address emerging healthcare challenges. It also aims to stimulate important discussions aimed at improving healthcare practices in Singapore and beyond.

    For Prof Lee, all his achievements in the medical field are built upon one fundamental yet crucial principle: an unwavering commitment to save lives. 

    “The most important thing in the medical profession is to remember why you became a doctor in the first place. You're here to save lives and improve humanity, not for any other reason. With that as a guiding principle, you can achieve a lot of things in the profession,” Prof Lee shared.

    “We do our best for every patient – it doesn’t matter who they are, whether they’re rich or poor, whether they’re nice or obnoxious. We have to look out for our patients… this applies to all areas of healthcare, whether it be in research, medical, or administration.”

    These days, Prof Lee has shifted his attention towards training and mentoring the next generation of medical practitioners, while also driving innovations to address future health challenges.

    He said, “In medicine, innovation is a duty we owe to our patients—both in the present and future. We achieve true and lasting impact when we pioneer new methods and drive their widespread adoption. By sharing our knowledge and embracing new approaches, we multiply the impact of our expertise—enabling us to save far more lives than we ever thought possible.”

    Expanding on this notion, he added, “I’ve been privileged to have worked with excellent scientists and engineers to develop things that will benefit a lot more people, beyond what I could have done as a surgeon alone.”

    And it is this boundless potential for innovation in healthcare that continues to fuel Prof Lee's passion for his work.

    He elaborated, “Every morning when I go to work, I'm always full of excitement. There are always new things to discover, new friends to make, new projects to do. That is what keeps my interest going.” 

    In consultation with Prof Lee Chuen Neng, Emeritus Consultant, Adult Cardiac Surgery, Department of Cardiac, Thoracic and Vascular Surgery, NUHCS, and Professor, Department of Surgery, NUS Medicine.