Friday, 23 November 2012

Tan Cheng Bock closing clinic after 41 years

By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 22 Nov 2012

THE shutters will come down on Dr Tan Cheng Bock's clinic for the last time today.

The former presidential candidate, who has been called the "good doctor of Ama Keng village" - or simply "Doc" - is closing his Ama Keng Clinic after running it for 41 years.

Yesterday marked his last day practising there, the 72-year-old revealed in an emotional posting on Facebook last night.

Dr Tan had started the clinic in 1971 in Ama Keng in rural Lim Chu Kang, naming it after the village.

It moved several times but kept its name. In August, Dr Tan told The Straits Times that he had sold the clinic - now located in Jurong West - and would be closing it this month.

Yesterday, the veteran politician reminisced about the old days, when he was operating his clinic from a rundown wood-and-zinc shophouse. "Many thought I was crazy as there were so many other options in town," he said in a post, which drew 1,100 Facebook "likes" within an hour.

"But I love medicine, and practising in the rural environment was my idea of doctoring. It was obviously challenging... you had to manage the cases all by yourself as the nearest hospital was 28km away from the village."

There were no taps or flush toilets back then, recalled Dr Tan.

Most patients were poor farmers living in attap huts, and making house calls meant traversing muddy, pothole-ridden tracks.

"When it rained, the tracks got flooded," he said. "Once, the villagers lifted my car out of a flooded ditch."

During last year's presidential campaign, many former patients shared stories of how Dr Tan would waive his fees if they could not afford them. He would accept eggs, vegetables and chickens as payment.

The former six-term People's Action Party backbencher continued to practise even after entering politics in 1980.

After Ama Keng village was resettled, he moved his clinic three times before settling at Jurong West, where he practised for another 15 years. Many of his patients were wistful about the closure of his clinic.

Insurance executive Emily Ong, 42, said Dr Tan had attended to three generations of her family: "We would very much like him to have the clinic, but we are also looking forward to what he will do next."

Dr Tan, however, is not hanging up his stethoscope just yet. He told The Straits Times that he will continue to practise twice a week at his cousin's clinic two bus stops away - "just to look after my old, old girlfriends and boyfriends".

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