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Aiyoh! After 16 years, he still can't say 'lah'

04-Sep-2010 (Sat) News, The New Paper

By Ng Wan Ching

Having worked in UK and US, doc ‘had few problems’ becoming S’pore citizen

AWARD: Associate Professor Peter George Manning has received Certificate of Appreciation and Courage Medal for his contributions during the 2003 Sars epidemic in Singapore.

HE CAME, he saw and he stayed.

Associate Professor Peter George Manning, 63, now considers himself a true blue Singaporean.

He eats at hawker centres, loves durians and also the term “aiyoh”.

“I haven’t a clue what the expression means but you can say it in any tone to display your mood – you can say it in anger, frustration or surprise.

“But, in 16 years, I have not yet graduated to ‘lah’,” Prof Manning told The New Paper.

He arrived in 1994 and in 1999, he turned in his British passport for a Singapore one.

Last night, the former head of the emergency medicine department at the National University Hospital (NUH) received one of its highest honours, the Emeritus Consultant award at the NUH’s 25th anniversary gala dinner.

Indeed, he has chalked up many achievements in his work here.

He was the first in Singapore to provide 24/7 care with senior doctors for an accident and emergency department.

He built the fledgling team, when there was just himself and two other doctors in 1994 to a 60-strong department today.


He was appointed vice-chairman, Medical Board (Risk Management) last year because of his expertise with medical and legal issues.

He received Certificate of Appreciation and Courage Medal for his contributions during the 2003 Sars epidemic here.

Of his Emeritus Consultant award, Prof Manning said that it “demonstrates to me that whatever success I have been able to achieve leading a good team has been recognised at a high level”.

If he had remained in the UK, he would have been part of a health-care system with many constraints,he said.

“Promotions would have been delayed and I suspect I would not have been able to climb the medical administrative ladder (as) easily,” he added candidly.

Prof Manning said that he would also not have had the clinical independence that he experienced here.

“I would have had to consult (other specialists) much more before admitting a patient,” he said.

It is a similar scenario in the United States, where he practised for 17 years.

“When I left the US system in 1994, life had become very difficult for many physicians, especially emergency physicians,” he said.

Then, some 35 million or more Americans had no health insurance and the emergency departments were overcrowded with people seeking their primary health care, he said.

“Naturally, this limited one’s ability to focus totally on the ‘sicker’ patients,” he said.

“Had I remained in the US, I would have been a very unhappy physician, albeit with a higher-than-average income.”

Prof Manning said that when a former colleague of his from Toledo, Ohio, visited Singapore in June for the International Conference of Emergency Medicine, he hosted him for dinner.

“It was clear that he, and others I knew, were unhappy working in the current US system. In fact, he told me that I was ‘ahead of the curve’ in changing my career path when I did in the early 90s,” he said.

But the professor said that he could not have done what he had if not for his colleagues.


“Whatever I’ve achieved in this hospital could not have been done without the team. I was lucky enough to be able to run a good team,” he said.

His wife of 30 years and a former nurse, has helped too, in that she understands why he’s tied up with work nearly 60 hours a week.

“But she’s been very patient and she recognises this is a contribution that I feel I have to make for Singapore,” said Prof Manning.

Now his wife, who is American, travels to the US on her own twice a year to spend time with their children and grandchildren.

“In fact, that was one of the agreements I had to strike with her when I raised the issue of immigration,” he said.

He returns to the UK once every two years to visit his father and sister.

“Separation from family was never a big issue since I left the UK in 1975,”he said.

His father, though 97 years old, is in the pink of health. He does his own gardening and goes to the bank on his own.

Even though Prof Manning has passed the retirement age of 62, he has no plans to stop working any time soon.

“My employer has been active in supporting the Government’s suggestion of allowing people who can make a contribution to continue their employment.

“The result is that I am now working harder than at any time of my life,” he said.

He particularly admires Emeritus Professor K Shanmugaratnam, fondly known as “father of pathology in Singapore”,who is 89 years old.

“He comes in every morning and has a reputation for reading a slide just as well, if not better, than some of the younger people,” said Prof Manning.

After all his port of calls, the man who has also lived and worked in Barbados, is certain that Singapore will be his last stop.

“I had few problems in making the decision to renounce my UK citizenship. I think I recognised that Singapore was a good match for me and vice-versa,” he said.

There were few problems culturally, too.

With the exception of tau suan, a local dessert.

“This so-called dessert has but one function – as the paste for hanging wallpaper. It is the most obnoxious food I have come across.

“So never serve me tau suan – you might end up wearing it!” he said.

“His bedside manners are impeccable. He has a stern demeanour and a wry sense of humour, but underlying this is actually a very warm, congenial person.” – Associate Professor Aymeric Lim, chairman of the NUH Medical Board