Medicine Man, Music Man
“Every once in a while, a studious rheumatologist must let his hair down and follow the beat of his drums! Meet Associate Professor Leong Keng Hong, who has been in private practice since 1997.”

As the subject of numerous magazine articles, it is striking just how often Associate Professor Leong Keng Hong has been described as ‘introspective’, ‘quiet’, ‘soft-spoken’ and ‘genteel’. These adjectives are not surprising - after all, he is a man of science and a physician.

However, those descriptors clearly did not apply when THIS Quarterly interviewed the rheumatologist one warm and sunny afternoon on 20 October 2017. In that session, held in his clinic at Gleneagles Medical Centre, his volume rose a notch, his gestures became more energetic and passion burned bright in his eyes when he opened up about a particular topic. Don’t let his gentle demeanour fool you because A/Prof Leong is one mean musician.

Providing the beat

“Yes, I play the drums. Recently, I got involved in my brother’s band, Wild Ginger. We play once a month at Tanah Merah Country Club,” reveals the 58-year-old medical specialist. “Actually, the band’s music is slightly old for me, but I can adapt!”

He also plays with a band in his church, Chapel of Christ our Hope. “My church caters to families with severe autism,” he shares. “As it is an autism-friendly church, some of the members with autism are noise-sensitive, so sometimes I play the cajon [a box drum] instead.”

A/Prof Leong emphasises that he is a self-taught musician; while he is confident of providing the beat for the pop and evergreen tunes in Wild Ginger’s repertoire, he feels his musical foundation isn’t firm enough to tackle genres such as jazz, which demands more complicated rhythms from the drums.

When he is not making music, A/Prof Leong is listening to it. “Music is a big part of my life,” he states. “I like classical music and go watch the SSO [Singapore Symphony Orchestra], but my musical taste is very varied.” He cites jazz fusion bands Spyro Gyra and Casiopeia, Mandopop queen A-Mei as well as Japanese R&B singer Utada Hikaru as just a small sampling of artistes he has on his playlist.

The former Anglo- Chinese School student also reminisces about hanging out with two prominent local musicians, Clement Chow and Sydney Tan.

Getting into medicine

When asked if his Christian faith played a part in his decision to be a doctor, A/Prof Leong replies, “Honestly, no. I only became a Christian after I entered medical school. Many people become Christians in times of crisis; for me, it was not like that.” He reveals that when he got into medical school, he started to contemplate existential issues, and was asking himself questions such as, “What is the meaning of life?”, “What happens to you after you die?”, as well as “What is the purpose of everything?”. He has been a Christian since 1978.

The desire to pursue medicine has been in him since he was a child growing up in No. 51 Club Street. “I’ve always wanted to be a doctor because people close to me have had a lot of very severe diseases; in retrospect, most of them had autoimmune diseases.”

What is rheumatology?

Autoimmune diseases are significant to A/Prof Leong because his clinic sees a lot of patients with such maladies.

The medical speciality of rheumatology only started in the 1960s. “Rheumatology is very young,” he clarifies. It is a discipline that is the internal medicine counterpart of orthopaedic surgery, and is concerned with the health of the bones, joints and connective tissues.

Although there are about 100 different conditions that fall under a rheumatologist’s purview, A/Prof Leong’s clinic sees mostly patients with autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, the No. 1 and No. 2 conditions he treats most frequently.

And just because he deals with bones and joints doesn’t mean that all his patients are old folks experiencing wear and tear. “More than half my patients are young,” he points out.

INTERNAL MEDICINE VS SURGERY

According to A/Prof Leong, rheumatology is the internal medicine counterpart of orthopaedic surgery. Here are other examples of this dual nature of medicine:

INTERNAL MEDICINE SURGERY
Rheumatologist Orthopaedic Surgeon
Neurologist Neurosurgeon
Cardiologist Cardiac Surgeon